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The NT has the highest proportion of Indigenous people for any state or Territory in Australia. At the 2001 Census 29% of the population identified as being Indigenous in comparison with 2.2% nationally. 71% of Indigenous Territorians live in rural and remote areas of the NT (ABS 2001 Census).
The Environmental Health Branch has Environmental Health Officers based in Darwin and the four regional centres of Nhulunbuy, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs who are responsible for servicing the surrounding indigenous communities. The Program assists indigenous communities in developing and maintaining healthy, clean living conditions, to reduce the amount of opportunities for the transmission of disease causing organisms.
It is well documented that indigenous Territorians generally experience much lower standards of housing than other Territorians. Poor living or environmental health conditions are associated with increased rates of infectious disease particularly amongst children. Infectious diseases such as diarrhoeal disease, acute respiratory and skin infectious are some of the leading causes of hospitalisation for indigenous infants and children aged less than five years. The repercussions of frequent childhood infections are far reaching with research indicating that chronic and repeated acute childhood infections can lead to chronic adult respiratory disease and some forms of kidney disease in later life.
The Environmental Health Branch seeks to improve health outcomes for Indigenous Territorians by carrying out its statutory obligations and also by utilising the principles of community development and health promotion to increase the capacity of Indigenous communities to create and sustain health.
The objectives of the program are to:
- Provide professional support to community based Indigenous Environmental Health Workers;
- Work with other program areas of the department and key stakeholders to build the capacity of Indigenous communities in order to improve health outcomes;
- Assist in the development of large scale housing and environmental health infrastructure projects under the NT Indigenous Housing Program;
- Develop, implement and enforce environmental health and food safety legislation; and
- Provide community education and advice.