For thousands of years the Ngangkari – the traditional aboriginal healers in Central Australia – have passed on their skills to young children. The idea of children being “doctors” is deeply embedded in Indigenous culture and life. Now this idea is getting a new injection of life with the Young Doctors project.
The project employs respected community members to teach the traditional ways and the contemporary ways of creating healthy communities. The young people become health leaders to their younger peers and their community. This helps create stronger communities and even opens up career pathways in health.
In each area the local language is used. In Utopia it’s Umbarkalya Doctors, in Dunghutti Country it’s Dhalayi Doctors. They are taught by respected members of the communities, including Elders, over a fun packed but structured program.
The Young Doctors act as health ambassadors for their communities, particularly their peers.
Any child who attends school regularly will be able to become a Young Doctor.
“The best thing about this is that it puts aboriginal people in charge of their own situation”, says Dr Sabine Boes, whose extensive experience in remote communities has fuelled her passion for practical solutions to the challenging situations she has encountered.
The Young Doctors learn about the need for washing, cleaning noses, hand hygiene, wearing clean clothes, keeping the house clean, keeping the community clean, bush medicine and a whole lot more.
Independent research has shown that these simple techniques will significantly improve primary health outcomes and will likely reduce longer term chronic health problems. Driving the project is the disturbing health for Aboriginal children.
- 91 % in the NT suffer with otitis media and are at risk from deafness
- 25 % of Northern Territory children are affected by trachoma [eliminated in all other western countries] and at risk of blindness
- 87% of Aboriginal households in the Northern Territory have no water and power
- 38% of Indigenous people are aged under fifteen [compared to 19% of Australians]
In 1978 the World Health organisation raised the idea of empowering children to become health ambassadors delivering primary health care. The idea took root in many countries, but nowhere more successfully that Nepal where there are more than two thousand child doctors. In Aceh the program was hailed as being responsible for there being no outbreak of cholera after the Tsunami.