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Abstract

Building trust and forging relationships with remote Aboriginal communities is an essential element of culturally informed, reciprocal research. Historically these relationships have been formed over-time where community members and researchers come together face to face to share their knowledge and yarn in both an informal and formal manner. Researchers from Telethon Kids Institute are partnering with local stakeholders and remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, Western Australia (WA) to support healthy skin through the SToP (See, Treat, Prevent skin sores and scabies) Trial. The SToP trial, a collaboration between Telethon Kids Institute, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), Nirrumbuk Environmental Health Services and Western Australia Country Health Services (WACHS) – Kimberley is a clustered randomised trial with a stepped-wedge design. SToP trial consultation with stakeholders and communities commenced in 2016 to proceed consenting in 2018 and trial commencement in 2019. Since that time, the SToP trial team have been conducting intermittent fieldwork in nine remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic when Aboriginal health leaders recommended a cessation to research related travel in northern WA from March 11, 2020 to prevent the incursion of COVID-19 into Aboriginal communities with health vulnerabilities, crucial face-to-face yarning was no longer possible.

At the time it appeared the existing relationships with communities involved in our research (the SToP trial) would be challenging to maintain without this ability to visit the communities. Fortunately, when tested, this assumption was erroneous. Here we report the successful use of technology to bridge the inability to visit communities in 2020 due to COVID-19. The Telethon Kulunga Aboriginal Unit (Kulunga) and SToP trial team members were able to connect virtually with Community Navigators from the Dampier Peninsula communities. The initial virtual meeting using Microsoft Teams technology involved four Community Navigators and their mentor, three Telethon Kids Institute and five Kulunga staff members. Community Navigators joined Microsoft Teams from their respective communities and Kulunga and Telethon Kids Institute staff joined from their homes. Not only was this an exciting new way of communicating, it enabled existing relationships to continue to be strengthened. Since the initial meeting, the teams have continued to meet virtually, and plan SToP trial health promotion activities including a community-driven, collaborative music video. While the significance of face-to-face yarning can never be overstated, having to adjust to a new way of yarning has reiterated the importance of connection, albeit virtually. Unfortunately, due to technical limitations, intermittent internet connectivity and various other challenges, there has been no opportunity to engage virtually with SToP trial communities in the East Kimberley. However, we continue to seek ways where virtual communication in these communities is possible.

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