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22 Nov 2022

New study sheds light on household structure and mobility in remote Aboriginal communities

Researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity have found that household structures and mobility patterns in remote Aboriginal communities are different to other parts of Australia, which could potentially affect the spread of infectious diseases in these communities.   

A recent pilot study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health recruited Aboriginal mothers with infants in a remote northern Australian community to complete an iPad-based contact survey to record contact and mobility data over a 12-month period.   

Current modelling of infectious disease transmission in remote-living settings does not account for the fact that families are often organised across multiple dwellings. 

Author of the study and PhD student with the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Institute Jessie Goldsmith said she hopes the findings will have implications for public health interventions.  

"Understanding a community's household structure and contact patterns is crucial to predicting how disease will spread through it and in determining what an effective and culturally-safe response looks like,” Ms Goldsmith said.  

“This is particularly important for remote-living Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it is much harder to access health services. A public health response to an outbreak that underestimates how quickly a disease will spread can have severe consequences.” 

Ms Goldsmith said the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the concept of a household is highly culturally specific and should be re-examined to represent diverse living arrangements.  

“We need to realise that the concept of what constitutes a household is not universal. When we don’t take this into consideration, we run the risk of developing infectious disease transmission models that are inaccurate and public health responses that are ineffective or culturally unpalatable.” 

Funding: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the University of Melbourne  

DOI: 10.3390/ijerph191912002