Indigenous people are hospitalised for skin related diseases at double the rate of the non-Indigenous population, according to statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
But research from the University of Technology Sydney suggests using antibacterial honey, like Manuka honey, for wound care in remote Indigenous communities could improve this statistic.
Researcher, Daniel Bouzo, said honey’s properties make it ideal for use in remote Indigenous communities.
“Overall, I use medical honey all the time, that will be the first thing I go for."
“Honey can be stored for a really long time and doesn't have to be refrigerated whereas many anti-microbials or antibiotics need to be refrigerated or be transported while being refrigerated,” he said.
Dr Shona Blair was one of the first people to conduct research into medicinal honey in Australia and is the current vice-president of the NSW Apiarist Association, she said honey is “grossly under-utilised” in communities that have limited access to medical assistance.
“The great thing about honey is that you can’t overdose on it and it doesn't interact with any other medications so it's not going to make you accidentally sick,” Dr Blair said.
“You don't want to go giving medications to people who live remotely and there aren't enough medical professionals to help them where it could be dangerous if they used too much.”
The downside to many antibiotics is they can interact negatively with other medicines, and often have restrictions on how long they can be used for - problems honey does not have.
Honey’s antibacterial properties have been known for thousands of years, but many doctors today are skeptical of the sticky substance because it is not a traditional medicine.
Yet there are doctors and nurses using honey in the field to great effect.
Patricia Greenwood was a nurse for 16 years working primarily in wound care on NSW’s mid-north coast and said in her experience honey is “very effective” at treating skin ailments from burns, to gravel rash, to diabetic ulcers.
Ms Greenwood said honey is just another tool in a nurse’s tool kit of antibacterial treatments.
It depends on the wound but, “overall, I use medical honey all the time, that will be the first thing I go for," she said.
Honey is becoming more accepted by mainstream medicine as an effective treatment for a host of infections and ailments.
It is especially interesting for it’s ability to treat superbugs that have become resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics, according to Dr Blair.
As interest grows in the product, Mr Bouzo hopes this will lead to employment opportunities for Indigenous people.
“If somehow honey or beekeeping could be introduced into that [Working on Country] program, I think then there would an opportunity to have Indigenous bee keepers possibly producing medicinal honey,” he said.
Australia is home to over 80 species of flower that produce honey with antibacterial properties similar to, or stronger, than New Zealand’s Manuka honey Mr Bouzo said.