Residents and researchers in the Top End are fighting back against skin disease by targeting the prevention and treatment of scabies, tinea and skin sores in infants living in remote indigenous communities.
Often the disease of poverty and poor housing, scabies and skin sores is rife in many remote indigenous communities. Recent research conducted in East Arnhem found a previously unrecognised level of scabies and skin sores in the first year of life, with six out of every ten babies having contracted scabies at least once by their first birthday. A similarly high rate (seven out of ten) had contracted skin sores.
Scabies and skin sores in childhood have been linked with high rates of kidney disease in later life. There is also strong evidence to suggest that skin infections are closely linked to the world-record rates of rheumatic heart disease found in some remote indigenous communities.
To help in their fight to rid their region of this scourge, communities in East Arnhem have joined forces with researchers from the Menzies School of Health Research (MSHR) to develop and implement a new program which includes training for local aboriginal community workers involved in the prevention and treatment of the disease.
Speaking at the 'Healthy Lifestyle Festival' at Galiwinku community this week, MSHR's Healthy Skin Educator, Loyla Leysley said that communities across the region had embraced the new training program which was equipping local community workers with the skills and knowledge needed to help their communities beat this disease.
"The training program not only provides crucial on the job training but also allows participants to gain a formal qualification at VET Certificate II level which can be used as a stepping stone towards qualification as an Aboriginal Health Worker.
"In addition to the essential clinical training, the program also includes community based education training with a particular focus on prevention through good family hygiene" Mrs Leysley said.
"If we can prevent infants from contracting skin diseases in the early years, they stand a much better chance of living healthy lives in the future and also reduces the likelihood of them going on to suffer from debilitating kidney and heat disease" she concluded.
Bundhala Bhuiikay, Senior Aboriginal Health Worker at Galiwinku community said that since the introduction of the Healthy Skin Program and associated training she and her fellow workers had been better able to help and educate the wider community.
"The Healthy Skin Program has helped many people of all ages in this community. It helps to tell everyone about scabies, what it can do to your body and what you can do to stop it" she said.
The communities Galiwinku, Milingimbi, Yirrkala, Marngarr, Ramingining and Gapuwiyak are holding Healthy Skin Days during October 2006.
The East Arnhem Healthy Skin project is a collaborative project involving local communities, councils and clinic staff. The Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services, the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, Menzies School of Health Research and the Commonwealth Government are all also contributing. The project also receives funding support from the Ian Potter Foundation and Rio Tinto Aboriginal Foundation. Visiting dermatologists from the Australasian College of Dermatology have offered their services free.
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