Describing skin health and disease in urban-living Aboriginal children: co-design, development and feasibility testing of the Koolungar Moorditj Healthy Skin pilot project

Bernadette M. Ricciardo, Heather Lynn Kessaris, Noel Nannup, Dale Tilbrook, Brad Farrant, Carol Michie, Lorraine Hansen, Richelle Douglas, Jacinta Walton, Ainslie Poore, Alexandra Whelan, Timothy C. Barnett, Prasad S. Kumarasinghe, Jonathan R. Carapetis, Asha C. Bowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Indigenous children in colonised nations experience high rates of health disparities linked to historical trauma resulting from displacement and dispossession, as well as ongoing systemic racism. Skin infections and their complications are one such health inequity, with the highest global burden described in remote-living Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (hereafter respectfully referred to as Aboriginal) children. Yet despite increasing urbanisation, little is known about the skin infection burden for urban-living Aboriginal children. More knowledge is needed to inform service provision, treatment guidelines and community-wide healthy skin strategies. In this pilot study, we aimed to test the feasibility and design of larger multi-site observational studies, provide initial descriptions of skin disease frequency and generate preliminary hypotheses of association. Methods: This project has been co-designed with local (Noongar) Elders to provide an Australian-first description of skin health and disease in urban-living Aboriginal children. In collaboration with an urban Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service), we conducted a week-long cross-sectional observational cohort study of Aboriginal children (0–18 years) recruited from the waiting room. Participants completed a questionnaire, skin examination, clinical photos, and swabs and received appropriate treatment. We assessed the feasibility and impact of the pilot study. Results: From 4 to 8 October 2021, we recruited 84 Aboriginal children of whom 80 (95%) were urban-living. With a trusted Aboriginal Health Practitioner leading recruitment, most parents (or caregivers) who were approached consented to participate. Among urban-living children, over half (45/80, 56%) of parents described a current concern with their child’s skin, hair and/or nails; and one-third (26/80, 33%) reported current itchy skin. Using a research-service model, 27% (21/79) of examined urban-living participants received opportunistic same-day treatment and 18% (14/79) were referred for later review. Conclusions: This co-designed pilot study to understand skin health in urban-living Aboriginal children was feasible and acceptable, with high study participation and subsequent engagement in clinical care observed. Co-design and the strong involvement of Aboriginal people to lead and deliver the project was crucial. The successful pilot has informed larger, multi-site observational studies to more accurately answer questions of disease burden and inform the development of healthy skin messages for urban-living Aboriginal children.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Number of pages14
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Issue number1
Early online date11 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jan 2024


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