Housing conditions and health
Two of the critical factors connecting housing conditions to health are the impact of overcrowding and the state of domestic health hardware. ‘Health hardware’ refers to the physical equipment needed to support good health. This includes safe electrical systems; access to water; working taps, showers, and sinks with plugs; toilets; waste and wastewater removal systems; and facilities needed for the safe storage and preparation of food. If any of these facilities are unavailable, not working, or inadequate to support the number of residents, illness or injury can occur (AIHW 2020a).
There are several health conditions that are impacted by overcrowding and inadequate health hardware. These include kidney disease; acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD); eye health; and hearing health. Each of these conditions cause considerable burden to individuals, communities and health services, and can lead to hospitalisations that are potentially preventable (AIHW 2020a).
Indigenous Australians living in the Northern Territory are much more likely to live in remote areas and/or in dwellings lacking 1 or more functional household facilities than Indigenous Australians in other jurisdictions. The Northern Territory also has a much higher rate of first known episodes of ARF among Indigenous Australians than Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia (Figure HH 6).
For more information on acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, see the Health conditions topic page.
Evaluation of a New South Wales Government program called Housing for Health looked at the impact of housing improvements on rates of hospitalisation and found very positive health results could be achieved. On average, rates of hospital separations for intestinal infections and respiratory infections in participating Indigenous households both dropped by around 40% after housing repairs and maintenance were implemented. In the long term, programs like Housing for Health should help to reduce the high burden of chronic diseases among Indigenous Australians.