Strong Hearing, Strong Start Raising awareness the key to improving Indigenous ear health

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“Ear disease is a chronic process that occurs over the most important period of a child’s upbringing that is during their learning, growth and development. If we don’t get onto it and we don’t be persistent with it, kids are going to miss out on their education. If they miss out on their education it changes their whole life outcomes,”

Dr. Kelvin Kong one of the few Indigenous surgeons in the country, and now an ambassador for the Care for Kids’ Ears campaign

Being an ear, nose and throat specialist working in and visiting numerous Indigenous communities over his career, Dr Kelvin Kong is as experienced as any person when it comes to dealing with and discussing what he himself defines as the ‘travesty of ear disease’ in Indigenous communities. Dr Kong is one of the few Indigenous surgeons in the country, and now an ambassador for the Care for Kids’ Ears campaign, part of the Australian Government’s commitment to improving eye and ear health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for better education and employment outcomes.

Dr Kong also mentors Indigenous medical students and is a highly valued member of numerous boards and committees within the Indigenous health sphere. He believes that a significant aspect of the ear health ‘travesty’ exists in how easily ear problems can be identified and treated, and yet far too many Indigenous children are continuing to have their hearing and health impaired through lack of awareness.

“I think as health professionals it is our duty of care to ensure that ear health is a major focus.  The simple fact is that it’s very easy to look at someone’s ears, and very easy to get a hearing test done, and very easy — in any points of contact that we have with someone — to make sure the ears and hearing is checked.  If we make sure that every health professional advocates for that, then it becomes second nature. We need to get that type of mentality started.”

As well as providing targeted ear health information for teachers and parents, the Care for Kids’ Ears resources include materials designed specifically for health professionals and organisations, including a consultation tool, ear health information, key messages to share with parents and carers, guidelines on Otitis Media, posters, information booklets and flyers.

“These resources allow the power of information to be placed in the hands of the carers and parents, not only the health professionals, which is vitally important,” says Dr Kong. “In terms of communicating with community, it comes down to common sense.

That is, we need to translate information directed to the community and directed to the health professionals at the level that they need. Once that information is disseminated in the appropriate manner, it sits within the power-brokers of the community, the parents.

When that happens, things get pushed forward, and that is such a powerful message and where the Care for Kids Ears’ resources become extremely useful in giving that power back to the community.”

The Care for Kids’ Ears resources for Parents and Carers can be downloaded or ordered from the Care for Kids’ Ears website: http://www.careforkidsears.health.gov.au/

STRONG EARS, STRONG FUTURES

Ear

Healthy hearing starts at home

Being a mother of five children all under the age of 12, Kobi McKenzie-Ingrey is no stranger to looking after sick kids. As it is for most mums and dads, watching out for colds and coughs, and making regular trips to the doctor for treatment and check-ups is all part of the regular routine of raising a family.

However, after reading the Care for Kids’ Ears campaign resources for parents, Kobi admits that she was alarmed at how much information concerning the potentially serious health condition of Otitis Media she wasn’t aware of. “I’ve got all these children and really, I didn’t realise how important it was until I read the resources, and my eldest child is 11,” says Kobi. “

Image above: Kobi reads Care for Kids’ Ears Storybook to her son (photographer Andrew Rosenfeldt)

At the health centre there’s always a lot of adult related information, or information for tiny babies, but I haven’t noticed a lot on hearing specifically. So for me, having that information made me realise how important ear health really is.

I should have picked up on it a long time ago.” This realisation motivated Kobi to become an ambassador for the Care for Kids’ Ears campaign, which has been designed and produced by the Australian Government to increase awareness of ear disease and hearing loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

While Otitis Media (also known as ‘ear disease’ and ‘middle ear infection’) is a common disease in children, the prevalence, recurrence and degree of infection recorded in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is significantly higher than in non-Indigenous Australians. Left untreated, ear infections can lead to hearing loss which may limit a child’s capacity to develop socially and emotionally. Otitis Media can also adversely affect educational outcomes.

The Care for Kids’ Ears campaign has produced a range of materials to both inform and assist parents when it comes to keeping their children’s ears healthy. These tools include visual learning products such as activity books, memory cards and colouring in sheets. There is also a variety of easy to understand information that ranges from how to spot and treat ear infections, to useful tips on encouraging kids to clean their ears and blow their nose, vaccinations and eating healthy foods.

“I think the resources for parents are great, and it’s made me more conscious, because at the end of the day I have five kids and sometimes you forget the basic things to check for,” says Kobi. “I think a lot of parents are busy and it’s not that you don’t have time to check those sort of things, but you just don’t look for those signs because you don’t associate the ear with a runny nose that often, you think it’s just a cold.

“My daughter has an ear infection right now, and previously, I wouldn’t have thought to look for the different signs of ear infection. Now that I know, I looked for the signs the other day and I could see that she was scratching around her ear, so I’ve picked it up straight away and she’s started on antibiotics.”

STRONG EARS, STRONG FUTURES

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Resources to help teachers combat hearing problems

While good ear health always starts at home, the negative effects of poor ear health are often most pronounced in the classroom, where the educational possibilities and outcomes for students suffer.

Image above : Corey shows kids how to blow their nose for better ear health

Schools and teachers have an important role to play when it comes to improving the ear health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, which is why the Care for Kids’ Ears campaign has produced a range of resources designed specifically for teachers, and why educator, Corey Grech, jumped at the chance to become a Care for Kids’ Ears ambassador.

Working as an Aboriginal Education Assistant on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Corey has witnessed first-hand the impacts of poor ear health on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

“I work at a pre-school and spend a lot of time with kids aged three to five, and one thing I find is you repeat yourself all day, and often these ear problems can go unnoticed until the students themselves realise they’ve got a problem, which is way too late,” explains Corey.

‘We’ve got kids up in our primary school, if they’re sitting anywhere near the back of the class and we’re having behavioural issues with them, sometimes it can come down to the fact that they’re not hearing what’s going on.

I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen those kids get chastised by their teachers because they’re not doing the work.” An important focus of the Care for Kids’ Ears resources for teachers relates to educating teachers about the signs and symptoms of Otitis Media, allowing teachers to identify when a student might be struggling with an ear health issue.

The resources provide practical guidelines on how best to teach in a classroom where students may be struggling with limited hearing, and importantly, also raise awareness about the wider health contexts related to Otitis Media in Indigenous communities.

Corey believes this information is invaluable for teachers of Indigenous students in being able to teach successfully, and to provide their students with the best education outcomes possible. “As both a parent and teacher, I want to know how I can diagnose health problems like Otitis Media faster. For me it’s all about early intervention and not letting these health issues affect these kids during those really important early stages of their education.”

As well as educating teachers on the symptoms of Otitis Media, the Care for Kids’ Ears resources also provide tools to help teachers get their students thinking and talking about the importance of good ear health.

These resources include activity booklets, posters and a talking book. Corey says he has already noticed a positive impact on his student’s awareness of better ear health after introducing them to some of the Care for Kids’ Ears teaching resources. He believes that raising awareness on Otitis Media, both in the home and in the classroom, is a key element in building stronger futures for Indigenous youth.

“I believe not just in the importance of physical heath, but also the importance of mental health, and if you can’t hear somebody when you’re trying to learn that is going to mess with your mental health. You’re going to be a frustrated person, and that’s no place for learning.”

The Care for Kids’ Ears campaign is the first national campaign to target Indigenous ear disease and is part of the Australian Government’s commitment to improving eye and ear health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for better education and employment outcomes.

The Care for Kids’ Ears resources for Parents and Carers, Early Childhood & Community Groups, Teachers and Health Professionals can be downloaded or ordered from the Care for Kids’ Ears’ website:

http://www.careforkidsears.health.gov.au/
For media enquiries, please call Mayrah Sonter on 0405 834 016 or email mayrah@33creative.com.au

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