As we head into Anti-Poverty Week, rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a sobering reminder of a disease of poverty that has been all but eliminated in first world countries. Sadly, this is far from the case in the NT as growing incidence rates show (NT News 10/10). Around 30% of the 148 Aboriginal Territorians with RHD who died between 2013 and 2017 were aged 44 years of age or less. As Dr Belton from Menzies School of Health Research points out, years of research prove that overcrowded housing and poor quality housing are to blame.
While we are seeing some significant investment in building more houses across the NT to tackle house crowding, far more houses are needed than the current plans will deliver. Funding basic preventative maintenance programs that keep houses in good working order have also been proven to work and make a huge difference.
In NSW there was a 40% reduction in hospital separations for chronic illness and disease when simple but effective Housing for Health programs were operating in Aboriginal communities. That’s a serious reduction in public health costs. Sending young kids by Medevac down south for mitral valve replacement and repeat hospital admissions for a range of other chronic but preventable housing-related health conditions is a significant burden on the Territory’s health budget.
It’s time to get the basics right so that all Territorians have access to safe, appropriate and affordable housing.