Could reduction in overcrowding reduce the Indigenous youth mortality rate?

Dr Joshua Francis

Link between Indigenous health and housing to be explored at this year’s NHC.

At the National Housing Conference, NT Paediatrician Dr Josh Francis will explore the links between crowding and a particular heart disease prevalent in some Indigenous communities of Australia

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) starts in children (typically 5–15 years) as an infection from a common sore throat and possibly infected skin sores. RHD follows Rheumatic Fever and can end in open heart surgery, stroke, severe heart failure or premature death. RHD is a progressive, chronic disease that can be fatal—that means that it progressively gets worse, stays with those who have it for life and can end their lives.

Despite knowing the cause and having a cure, there is 500,000 new cases a year worldwide. This informative video helps further explain the disease. “RHD appears to affect socio-economic disadvantaged families and is an enormous problem in the Indigenous population of Australia,” says Dr Bo Reményi, Paediatric cardiologist and 2018 Australian of the Year, Northern Territory recipient. “It’s a disease of the top end of Australia. There’s a number of problems, one of them is the housing in the top end is not as good as it is in the southern states. There is a lot of overcrowding.”

Dr Josh Francis, works closely with Bo on the Take Heart Project and will be presenting on the correlation between overcrowding and RHD at this year’s NHC. Australia has the highest rates of RHD in the world.

“The scale of this problem is enormous,” Josh says. “I don’t think Australians are aware of what the problem is in our own country, particularly in Northern Australia, where so many are afflicted by Rheumatic Heart Disease…We haven’t got rid of this disease that many other countries in the world have gotten rid of. We can do something. This isn’t a hopeless cause.”

Dr Josh Francis, NT Paediatrician explaining the Take Heart Project.

Links between housing and RHD are centred around the likelihood of spreading the initial disease. “The problem is living conditions. It is about the environment that children are growing up in. If there in a situation where there is overcrowding in terms of housing, where there is opportunity to spread a throat infection from one to the other,” says public health expert, Dr Lyn Roberts.

Penicillin injections, the cheapest and most accessible antibiotic, are affective at killing the fever early before it progresses to RHD. The Take Heart Project is focussing on building education and pre-emptive measures towards lessening the rate of RHD in Australia’s northern states and Indigenous communities.

Dr Joshua Francis with be speaking at the major session on Indigenous housing and health at the NHC 2019. View the full program here.