Advocating for Equity, Collaboration and Culturally secure Osteoarthritis care for Aboriginal Australians

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we all live and work.

We recognise that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples have been custodians of this land for thousands of years, and we acknowledge their continuing connection to land, waters and community.

We pay our deepest respects to them and their cultures; and to their Elders both past, present and emerging.

ECCO was inspired by a group of clinicians and service providers in WA who noticed the impact that osteoarthritis was having on health and wellbeing in the regional and remote Aboriginal communities in which they lived and worked. Together with a team of researchers, the group conducted a systematic review to better understand the landscape of osteoarthritis in the wider Aboriginal community.

The outcomes revealed osteoarthritis to be an unmet health need with a mismatch between the burden of osteoarthritis and access to care on a national scale.  Bringing together the cultural expertise of the WA group and the osteoarthritis expertise of OPUS, ECCO was created to address this mismatch though consumer-led research prioritising Aboriginal voices.

  • O’Brien, P, Bunzli, S, Lin, I, Gunatillake, T, Bessarab, D, Coffin, J, Garvey, G, Dowsey, M, Choong, P. 2019. Keeping us on our feet: osteoarthritis and Indigenous communities. Under review.
  • Bunzli, S. 2019. Enhancing Equity, Collaboration and Culturally Secure Osteoarthritis Care for Aboriginal Australians. St Vincent’s Hospital Australia Research Week Forum Inclusive Health Program Presentation.
  • The University of Western Australia, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Research Grant for “Phase 1 of Enhancing Equity, Collaboration and Culturally secure Osteoarthritis care for Aboriginal Australians (ECCO)” ($40,000). Awarded to Dr Ivan Lin, Prof Peter Choong, Prof Juli Coffin and Dr Samantha Bunzli.
  • The St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Research Endowment Fund for “The in-patient study: exploring the knowledge and understanding of osteoarthritis in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander patients” ($16,938). Awarded to Dr Tilini Gunatillake, Prof Peter Choong and Prof Gail Garvey.
  • Commonwealth Government of Australia and Arthritis Australia for “Develop culturally appropriate arthritis information and education resources that address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) peoples” ($297,051 – $87,000 to the ECCO program). Awarded to Dr Ivan Lin, Dr Samantha Bunzli, A/Prof Michelle Dowsey, Prof Peter Choong.
  • The University of Melbourne’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) granted SOMA (Student Orthopaedic and Musculoskeletal Association) $2000 on behalf of ECCO to print, frame and license Mick’s artwork in the OPUS office, as per his requests.

About the artwork

Artist Mick Harding tells of a scar tree with diamonds inside the scar that represent our Liwik or Ancestors. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia are represented by the designs alongside both sides of the scar and along the limbs of the tree.

The five large gum leaves on the bottom limbs represent the five management journey streams of OPUS. Two sections of wavy lines at the top and bottom of the scar, represent the journey of OPUS and how its research has a ripple effect that effects positive change within our communities.


Mick Harding is a Taungwurrung Elder and belongs to the Yowong-Illam-Baluk clan (Mansfield Region) of the Taungwurrung people. He lives with his family in the rolling foothills of Gippsland’s Strzelecki ranges, and is an active member of the Taungwurrung, local and Victorian Indigenous communities. Mick draws his inspiration from the compelling legends of his people, and weaves the images of those legends into each of his artworks.

our current projects

Community reference group

In this project, we yarn with key informants from Aboriginal health services and organisations, and the wider community to explore how we can best set up a community reference group. The outcome of these yarns will be an established and representative Aboriginal community reference group that will provide input and guidance for all ECCO related research activities.

Inpatient Project

This project aims to explore the beliefs of Aboriginal patients admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. We want to learn about (any) joint pain they experience and explore their pain management and coping mechanisms.

Community osteoarthritis project

This project has two main parts. First, to explore the awareness of osteoarthritis in Aboriginal community groups through focus groups and yarning circles and second; to explore the impact of joint pain on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people who experience osteoarthritis in Victoria

Aboriginal arthritis resources project

This project is funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia and Arthritis Australia, and enables ECCO to partner with Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA. Together, the team will develop culturally appropriate health information resources for Aboriginal people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus that can be used as part of self-management, or as stand-alone consumer information resources.

the ECCO Framework

our team

chief investigator

A/Prof Michelle Dowsey

chief investigator

prof peter choong

research fellow

dr samantha bunzli

research fellow

dr tilini gunatillake

research assistant

Naz Rind

research assistant

Ryan Prehn

Research student

Penny O'Brien

Research student

Brooke Conley


dr ivan lin


dr Jonathan Bullen


prof juli coffin


Prof Dawn Bessarab


prof gail garvey


toni mason

Get in touch with us

Hey you mob! Get in touch with us if you want to hear more about the work we do and see how you can get involved. We are also here to help you, so if you think we can lend a helping hand, email us below! 

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