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How housing affects health on remote Country

[supplied by UQ]


Image: supplied

A study examining the link between unintended household crowding in remote Indigenous communities and the poor health of residents has been recognised with a UQ Research Partnerships and Translation Award (RPAT).

The project, Pilyii Papulu Purrakaj-ji (Good housing to prevent sickness), was co-designed by a multi-disciplinary team of five University of Queensland researchers and the Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation in the Northern Territory's Barkly region.

UQ anthropologist and architect Professor Paul Memmott said a chronic shortage of social housing in Central Australia meant houses designed for 4 or 5 people were being used by many more.

“We found the average household in Tennant Creek consisted of 10 people, but some had up to 25 family members living there,” Professor Memmott said.

The research also found many social housing properties were in disrepair, after up to 40 years in a harsh environment.

“As well as things like broken fly screens and missing louvres, there are toilets, sinks and hot water systems that haven’t been repaired or replaced when they needed to be,” he said.

Repairs can be delayed for months, leaving residents without access to hot water for showers or washing.

Study co-author Dr Nina Lansbury from UQ’s School of Public Health said household crowding puts further strain on domestic hot water systems and washing machines.

“These are the types of ‘health hardware’ that keep germs at bay in our homes,” Dr Lansbury said.

Dr Lansbury said it was also likely that infections could spread as people used the same benchtops or sleeping spaces due to limited resources such as spare linen and cleaning products. 

Anyinginyi Health staff treat high rates of skin infections like boils and school sores, as well as respiratory and ear, nose and throat infections.

Study co-author Dr Andrew Redmond from UQ Medicine and the Royal Brisbane Hospital said they’re spread by close contact and thrive in crowded living conditions.

“These sorts of infections might seem innocuous but getting them repeatedly sets up the conditions for chronic disease,” Dr Redmond said.

“Streptococcal A bacteria can cause acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and infection can be a precursor to chronic kidney disease.”

The researchers made two simple recommendations to reduce hygiene-related infections in remote communities – additional housing, and regular repairs and maintenance on existing properties.

“We’d like to see co-design with Indigenous communities to make very real and measurable improvements in this space,” Professor Memmott said.

The research partnership with Anyinginyi continues to strengthen, and work is also continuing with new partners and additional funding.

Professor Memmott and Dr Lansbury are chief investigators on a $5 million NHMRC STARFISH Synergy grant, in partnership with the Telethon Kids Institute.

A second research partnership with an Aboriginal health corporation in Alice Springs is set to consider the impact climate change has on health in remote communities.

The cross-disciplinary team from UQ also included Djirrbal woman and architect Dr Carroll Go Sam and anthropologist Dr Daphne Nash.


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