NACCHO Aboriginal Ear Health : Specialists declare war on ear diseases affecting Indigenous kids


” The chronic problem was not factored into “Closing the Gap’’ practical reconciliation metrics and even the Australian Medical Association ignored the problem, “but it should be part of gap closure, because as many as 90 per cent of Aboriginal children … have deafness more than three months of the year.”

Brisbane-based ENT surgeon Chris Perry, president of the Australian Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery

Photo: Peter Maloney has his ears checked by NCACCH worker Nichole Weeks.

FROM Chronic middle ear infection treatments for Indigenous people could help close gap: surgeon

Read 24 NACCHO Ear and Hearing stories HERE

Ear, nose and throat specialists have declared war on one of the most preventable and treatable conditions undermining the wellbeing and learning of Aboriginal children — serious ear disease reports Tess Livingstone in the Australian today

“The incidence is seasonal,’’ Dr Perry said. “In the Northern Territory, about 25 per cent have perforated eardrums and in the APY lands of South Australia it is 35 per cent, many times the incidence in caucasian children. It’s responsible for delayed language development, difficulty with comprehension, boredom and inattention at school … and is a major contributing factor to truancy.’’

In turn, poor hearing and poor school performance set up a cycle of poor skills, unemployment, substance abuse, violence, high incarceration rates and suicide.

‘They are not being ignorant, they are deaf’

The Maloney family

Dr Perry and more than 20 other Queensland ENT surgeons regularly spend several weeks a year in indigenous communities, performing up to 10 operations a day to clear children’s ears and remove adenoids to reduce reinfections. They work as part of Queensland’s Deadly Ears program, which visits people in remote communities regularly.

On Wednesday, ENT specialists, audiologists, Aboriginal health workers, scientists and administrators will meet in Newcastle to discuss middle-ear infections and a proposed national initiative to standardise an evidence-based approach to the infections, deafness and its educational effects and to hear from Australia’s only indigenous ENT specialist, Kelvin Kong, a member of the Worimi people of Port Stephens, north of Newcastle.

Dr Perry cited a Senate committee report released in May 2010 that concluded indigenous Australians suffered deafness and ear problems at 10 times the rate of non-indigenous Australians.

“Little has been done since then,’’ Dr Perry said. He believed Queensland’s Deadly Ears program would serve as an ideal model to start from, but Aboriginal communities needed a program specifically designed for their circumstances.

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