Housing Maintenance Officers play an Important Role in Trachoma Elimination

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Housing repair and maintenance staff play an important role in improving health outcomes for Indigenous people living in remote communities

This 'Share Your Story' was written by Yash Srivastava and Emma Stanford, Indigenous Eye Health, The University of Melbourne.

BACKGROUND

Housing and environmental health are a state and territory responsibility and function differently in each jurisdiction.

In the Northern Territory (NT), on most communities that are signed up to housing leases, houses are owned, managed and maintained by the Department of Local Government, Housing and Community Development (DLGHCD). It is known that prompt repair and maintenance of washing facilities (health hardware) contributes to better health.

Ideally, housing maintenance should be undertaken by community-based skilled workers who can respond to housing breakdowns swiftly and cost-effectively.

In the NT, housing repairs and maintenance is contracted out to Indigenous construction contractors. Included in the contract is that each of these contractors will maintain a community-based Housing Maintenance Officer (HMO) with handyperson skills for a cluster of 3-4 communities with the proviso that the HMO visits every community weekly to assess or respond to repair call outs immediately and in keeping with their level of skill. Where the job involves plumbing or electrical works that are beyond a handyperson’s skill set, the HMO reports it back to DLGHCD for further action.

Late in 2018, Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Indigenous Eye Health (IEH) jointly provided training to the frontline housing maintenance crew of the two main Indigenous construction companies, Tangentyere Construction and Ingkerreke Commercial, contracted by the NT’s DLGHCD for maintaining roughly 60 per cent of houses in remote Central Australia.

two images of staff being given training for trachoma and safe hardwareImage: Training on trachoma and importance of functioning hardware with community-based HMOs

The aim of the training was to teach the staff (mainly the community-based HMOs) about trachoma and the importance of functioning health hardware in preventing trachoma and other infectious diseases. It included discussion about the Clean Faces, Strong Eyes’ trachoma resources, Safe Bathroom Checklists, and mirrors at child height that would assist with eliminating trachoma sustainably in the communities that they work in.

safe bathroom chacklist showing a typical bathroom set up, listing hardwareImage: Safe Bathroom Checklist

The training took a strengths-based approach in highlighting the importance of the work that the HMOs were already doing by keeping the houses in good nick, and reminding them of the positive health benefits that their work resulted in for their communities. Yash Srivastava, Trachoma Environmental Improvement Manager (December 2019)

The training was provided to approximately 50 staff from both organisations including men and women, Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and followed up with a more detailed discussion with approximately 20 HMOs and apprentices.

The HMOs requested 150 acrylic mirrors to install at child height in bathrooms in accordance with installation guidelines prepared by IEH and Rotary (as part of their ‘End Trachoma by 2020’ program). It was also agreed that the HMOs would utilise the Safe Bathroom Checklist to engage tenants to report problems with their bathrooms.

children looking at mirrors, blowing noses, cleaning faces. mirror at child heightImage: Child Height Mirrors

I don’t have a glamorous job, I’m only a plumber, but I am passionate about what I do because a working tap not only prevents trachoma but other diseases like rheumatic heart disease and scabies in the communities that I work in. Housing Maintenance Officer

Health promotion activities are like sowing seeds in people’s minds. We can never be certain how they will germinate, nor can we be certain what shape or form they might take.

This work was supported by DLGHCD, Tangentyere Construction and Ingkerreke Commercial.


If you have any questions relating to this ‘story’ please contact Emma Stanford, Senior Research Fellow, Deputy Director at Indigenous Eye Health via email esta@unimelb.edu.au or by telephone (03) 9035 8255.

This 'Share your Story' article was published 20 Feb 2020.