Study uncovers Aboriginal respiratory health problems

Doctor with stethoscope

Research by students and academics in the School of Medicine at the University of Western Sydney has found Indigenous children from Mount Isa in Queensland are more than five times as likely to be admitted to hospital for certain chest infections than non-Indigenous children.

The study (opens in a new window), published in the Medical Journal of Australia (opens in a new window), looked at children under the age of 15 years who were admitted to Mount Isa Base Hospital for conditions such as pneumonia and bronchial infections between 2007 and 2011.

The findings show the annual admission rates for Indigenous children with infections were similar to those reported for the Northern Territory, where rates of pneumonia in children under a year old are among the highest in the world.

“Our study provides evidence that acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) is a major, increasing health burden in north-west Queensland, especially among Indigenous children,” say the report authors.

“The rates for ALRI are increasing annually in north-west Queensland, whereas they appear to be stable in Alice Springs and to be decreasing in Western Australia.”

The report found:

•    Average annual hospitalisation rates by age group were five to eight times higher for Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children, with an overall rate of 24.1 per 1000
•    Multiple admissions were common, with one child admitted 8 times, one 7 times and three children admitted 6 times
•    Hospitalisation rates were highest for children under a year old, and decreased as they grew older

The report authors say it’s not yet certain why Indigenous children are predisposed to these infections.

“Possibilities include prematurity and intrauterine growth restriction, under-nutrition, poor hygiene and exposure to cigarette smoke,” they say.

The study says more attention needs to be paid to the region.

“Given the rise of ALRI in north-west Queensland, the Indigenous health gap is widening despite national aspirations to close it,” say the report authors.