Swimming pools may have a positive effect on specific health problems in addition to providing recreational and social opportunities for the residents of Aboriginal communities. The pools may reduce the heavy burden of eye and skin diseases in Aboriginal communities, whilst swimming instruction and pool use may contribute to a general sense of well being.
To determine the health impact of introduction of swimming pools in remote Aboriginal communities with particular reference to skin sores, nasal discharge and otitis media.
In July/August 2000 children aged between 0 and 16 years in Burringurrah and Jigalong communities were enrolled before swimming pools were opened. Demographic and school attendance data were collected and adults' views on the provision of a pool into the community were sought. The children were examined by a paediatrician looking specifically at ear health and for the presence of skin sores, nasal discharge, eye disease and cough. Pictures of ear drums were taken using a video-otoscope. Swabs of some skin sores were taken to obtain information on the strains of Group A Streptococcus circulating in communities and a severity score for sores was recorded. Morbidity data were collected from local clinic records one year prior to opening of the pools and this has been collected throughout the period of the study. Pool managers provided data on pool use for individual study participants. The children were re-examined at six monthly intervals (summer and winter) for 2 years and then yearly.
In Burringurrah before the pool opened we found 31% of the children had perforated tympanic membranes (wet or dry) and 64% had skin sores. One year later 19% had perforated drums and 21% had sores. The Jigalong pool was closed for lengthy periods during the summer in the first year due to structural problems. Perforated tympanic membranes remained at 30% over the year however wet perforations halved from 16% to 8% and severe skin sores fell from 28% to 5%. Findings from subsequent visits to the communities and impact on number of antibiotic prescriptions will also be presented.
Preliminary results suggest that swimming pools in remote Aboriginal communities can have a marked beneficial effect on Aboriginal child health.