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Five Facts About Ear Disease In The Aboriginal Community

It's a much bigger problem than you think.

Posted on
Andrew Rosenfeldt.

The Care for Kids’ Ears campaign by the Australian Government has been launched to increase awareness about ear disease and hearing loss in children in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The campaign aims to help communities take preventative measures against Otitis Media which is more commonly known as ear disease or middle ear infection. It will recruit Indigenous teachers and community leaders to be ambassadors.

Otitis Media is common amongst children in general, but the rates amongst Indigenous kids are much higher.

If left untreated it often leads to partial deafness and contributes to behavioural issues.

While the condition is easily preventable and treatable in it's early stages, a lack of awareness and health services in the Aboriginal community have seen the condition become commonplace.

Australia's first Indigenous surgeon, ear, nose & throat specialist Kelvin Kong, says that the epidemic can effect kids well into their adult lives.

"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,” he says.

Aboriginal kindergarten teacher Corey Gretch joined the campaign because he sees young Indigenous children on a daily basis afflicted by Otitis Media. Gretch says that most young people learn to live with the infection putting them behind in school.

"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.”

Here are five facts about ear disease and Aboriginal children.

1. More likely to be hospitalised

Care for kids' ears campaign.

Aboriginal children aged five to 14 are twice as likely to be hospitalised for chronic ear infection than non-indigenous children in the same age group.

2. Remote children are the most affected.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

A staggering 90 per cent of Aboriginal children aged between zero and five in remote communities were found to have chronic ear disease.

3. Hearing loss is rampant.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

Over 70 per cent of Indigenous children who participated in the SFNT Hearing Health Program as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (The Intervention) were diagnosed with some form of ear infection.

Over half of those children had some form of hearing loss.

4. More likely to have an implant.

Shayne Teece Johnson

One out of 10 Australian children fitted with a hearing aid or cochlear implant in 2010 were Indigenous. That makes Indigenous children two times more likely to require treatment than non-Indigenous children.

5. International concern.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that a community with more than four percent prevalence of chronic ear disease should be a massive public health concern. In the Aboriginal community over 70 percent of people are affected.