Health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote Far North Queensland: findings of the Paediatric Outreach Service

Jonty Rothstein, Richard Heazlewood and Marnie Fraser
Med J Aust 2007; 186 (10): 519-521.


Aim: To describe the pattern of disease and other health problems in children living in remote Far North Queensland (FNQ).

Design, setting and participants: Retrospective review of the FNQ Paediatric Outreach Service’s Medical Director database for the period June 2001 to February 2006. Three subpopulations were compared: children from predominantly Aboriginal communities, predominantly Torres Strait Islander communities, and other communities. All children referred to the service during the study period were reviewed.

Main outcome measures: Number of children seen and common diagnoses.

Results: 3562 children were referred during the study period, and a total of 3932 diagnoses were made; 56% of the paediatric population of the Aboriginal communities and 23% of the paediatric population of Torres Strait Islander communities were seen. Of 40 separate diseases/health problems reviewed, the three most common reasons for presentation were chronic suppurative otitis media, suspected child abuse and neglect, and failure to thrive. In the paediatric population of Aboriginal communities, the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder was at least 15/1000 (1.5%), and in Torres Strait Islander children, rheumatic heart disease prevalence was at least 6/1000 (0.6%). Rheumatic fever rates were among the highest in Australia.

Conclusion: Rates of preventable complex and chronic health problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote FNQ are alarmingly high. Areas requiring urgent public health intervention include alcohol-related conditions and rheumatic fever.

  • Jonty Rothstein1
  • Richard Heazlewood2
  • Marnie Fraser2

  • 1 Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council, Broome, WA.
  • 2 Cairns Base Hospital, Cairns, QLD.



We would like to thank Dr Carmel Nelson, Dr Alex Balzarelli, Sue Metcalf, Julia Marley, Carole Honner, Kate Gale and the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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