The rising rate of burn injuries among Indigenous people living in remote Northern Territory is threatening the lives of children as young as four.
More than twice as likely to be hospitalised for a burn injury as non-Indigenous children, researchers say Indigenous children are disproportionally affected.
With the highest burn injury rates of all Australians, and mortality rates five times as high, researchers are calling for reform.
They say more Indigenous liaison workers in burn units, and greater cultural competency by clinicians in health services are urgently needed.
"Burns care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in Australia is still predominantly informed by non-Indigenous concepts of health, healing and care delivery," Flinders University PhD candidate Sarah Fraser said.
"The disjuncture between Western biomedical and Indigenous healthcare paradigms negatively impacts the delivery of care."
In a major study funded by the Australian Government NHMRC, researchers at Flinders University are working with the George Institute for Global Health and UNSW Sydney to address these issues.
The researchers interviewed 76 clinicians in multidisciplinary burn teams around Australia about their burn care for families.
The resulting findings, published in the journal Burns, found there are "clear opportunities to improve healthcare" for Indigenous children.
But their research also backed notions of a widening health care gap.
Burns care is an important but not isolated example, Ms Fraser said.
"The current power imbalance in favour of the scientific approaches to burns care extenuates the issue and constructive action is required to address this inequity."
Starting with care provisions in remote community clinics, the Coolamon project led by UNSW Professor Rebecca Ivers from the George Institute seeks to understand the gaps in care and bring better understandings of cultural and social requirements into major metropolitan burns units.
"Emergency and trauma settings, including burns units, are critical for provision of appropriate care for life-threatening injuries and rehabilitation afterwards," she said.
"However, care delivered needs to be holistic, and better address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families."
According to 2013-14 statistics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 9 per cent of hospitalised burn cases overall, with the 480 cases representing 58 cases per 100,000 population, compared to 22 cases per 100,000 for other Australians.
It is something Flinders University researcher Dr Tamara Mackean, who focuses on Australian healthcare delivery from an Indigenous perspective, says needs urgent attention.
"Addressing these issues is a critical means by which acute care services can address broader issues of quality and safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and meet the national standards of care set by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care," she said.
"Achievement of these standards will contribute to redressing health inequities in relation to childhood burn injuries."
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