Background: While there are many skin infections, reducing the burden of scabies and impetigo for remote living Aboriginal people, particularly children remains challenging. Aboriginal children living in remote communities have experienced the highest reported rate of impetigo in the world and are 15 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with a skin infection compared to non-Aboriginal children. Untreated impetigo can develop into serious disease and may contribute to the development of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD). As the largest organ protecting the body and visible to everyone, skin infections are often unsightly and very painful, therefore maintaining healthy skin and reducing the burden of skin infections is important for overall physical and cultural health and well-being. Biomedical treatments alone will not address these factors; therefore, a holistic, strengths-based approach that aligns with the Aboriginal world view of wellness is required to help reduce the prevalence of skin infections and their downstream consequences. Methods: Culturally appropriate yarning sessions with community members were conducted between May 2019 and November 2020. Yarning sessions have been identified as a valid method for story sharing and collecting information. Semi-structured, face-to-face interviews and focus groups with school and clinic staff were conducted. When consent was provided, interviews were audio-recorded and saved as a digital recording in a de-identified format; for those yarning sessions not recorded, handwritten notes were scribed. Audio recordings and handwritten notes were uploaded into NVivo software prior to a thematic analysis being conducted. Findings: Overall, there was a strong knowledge of recognition, treatment, and prevention of skin infections. However, this did not extend to the role skin infections play in causing ARF, RHD or kidney failure. Our study has confirmed three main findings: 1. The biomedical model of treatment of skin infections remained strong in interviews with staff living in the communities; 2. Community members have a reliance and belief in traditional remedies for skin infections; and 3. Ongoing education for skin infections using culturally appropriate health promotion resources. Interpretation: While this study revealed ongoing challenges with service practices and protocols associated with treating and preventing skin infections in a remote setting, it also provides unique insights requiring further investigation. Bush medicines are not currently practiced in a clinic setting, however, using traditional medicines alongside biomedical treatment procedures facilitates cultural security for Aboriginal people. Further investigation, and advocacy to establish these into practice, procedures and protocols is warranted. Establishing protocols and practice procedures focused on improving collaborations between service providers and community members in remote communities is also recommended. Funding: Funding was received from the National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC] (GNT1128950), Health Outcomes in the Tropical NORTH [HOT NORTH 113932] (Indigenous Capacity Building Grant), and WA Health Department and Healthway grants contributed to this research. A.C.B. receives a NHMRC investigator Award (GNT1175509). T.M. receives a PhD scholarship from the Australian Centre for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ACE-NTD), an NHMRC centre of excellence (APP1153727).
The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, Volume 35, June 2023,