Australian farmers receive 'medical MOTs'

Farmers in the Australian outback are used to their share of hardships. Heat, drought and sometimes challenging living conditions. They are tough cookies, who are not likely to go to the doctor for regular aches and pains, or if they are merely feeling under the weather. In addition, they need to find the time and be able to find a doctor in their vicinity. To ensure rural dwellers are able to undergo essential medical screening, Rabobank customers came up with the Pit Stop Health Check – a kind of 'medical MOT' for farmers.

Client Councils take action for their colleagues in the farming community

The most recent Pit Stop Health Check took place during the Gilgandra Field Day, an agricultural show at which several thousand farmers come together every year to close deals with suppliers, admire the latest tractors and simply to meet up. During the Pit Stop, farmers pass through a number of 'testing stations' like a car during an MOT. The heart is the engine, the coronary arteries and blood vessels are the fuel lines, the brain is the electronics, and so on. In the space of fifteen minutes, a team of medical specialists assesses them across a number of important health categories, following which medical advice is provided. The check has turned out to be a low-threshold way to convince the farmers, who are normally reluctant to see a doctor, to undergo a health check. The rationale behind it is best summed up by the slightly playful question: farmers have their cars inspected periodically, so why would they fail to do the same where their own bodies are concerned?

40% of the farmers are referred to their local medical practitioner

Far from the inhabited world

The idea for the 'health MOT' comes from the Australian Client Councils, an alliance of Rabobank customers from the agricultural sector. Rabobank founded these client councils because they are a perfect example of the bank's cooperative spirit. The bank wants to be more than a financial partner: it wants to play a meaningful role in the community, not only improving the health of farmers, but that of the agricultural sector as a whole. Seventeen Client Councils have been established to date: eleven in Australia and six in New Zealand. Every council is made up of around ten members.

'We want to reduce the urban-rural divide'

'Together with our customers, we drew up a list of the most important issues currently affecting the agricultural sector,' says Marc Oostdijk, head of Sustainable Business Development for Rabobank Australia & New Zealand. 'In addition to things like staffing, business succession, sustainability and the growing urban-rural divide, the health situation of the rural population is also an important area to focus on. On the one hand, those who live in rural areas have limited access to medical care, simply because they live quite a long way away from the ’civilised world’. On the other, farmers often ignore any health issues they may have. We asked ourselves when there were instances in which a lot of farmers come together, where we might be able to offer them a quick and simple medical check-up. We immediately thought of the field days.'

Staying healthy in the outback

What were the results of the Pit Stop Health Check in Gilgandra? 'We diagnosed a lot of cases of skin cancer (39%) – a common illness in these parts,' says Jonathan Melrose-Rae of the Royal Flying Doctors (RFDS), with whom Rabobank has had a long-standing partnership. 'In addition, in 45% of cases, we diagnosed a high risk of type 2 diabetes, and many people spoke about psychological complaints. During long dry spells particularly, many people in the outback can have a hard time coping psychologically. If they then decide to seek a full medical check-up, it can often take days out of work. After all, the medical specialists are not all in one place. Also, remote communities only have limited access to medical support. For example, in many small villages, the Royal Flying Doctors only visit once a week for consultations. For many farmers, visiting a doctor is too much hassle. An initiative like this will quickly prove its added value. It is just one of many initiatives through which we aim to make a contribution to the agricultural industry and society at large, in cooperation with our customers. With initiatives like this one, we believe we will be able to go some way towards reducing the urban-rural divide.'

Photo: Paul Beiboer, Rabobank