This week is Hearing Awareness Week in Australia which coincides with World Hearing Day on March 3rd. Both initiatives aim to promote hearing health and encourage hearing awareness. It's also an important time for the CRE-ICHEAR and our partners to make some noise about the inequities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children - who have the highest rates of ear disease in the world.
The World Health Organisation states that 4% of prevalence of ear disease is a public health emergency requiring urgent attention. Tragically, almost all Aboriginal children living in remote communities have some form of ear disease. In fact, over an 18 year period (2000 - 2018) research showed only 10% of Aboriginal children living in remote Northern Territory communities had healthy ears.
'Bulging ear drums and hearing loss: Aboriginal kids have the highest otitis media rates in the world' written by Professor Amanda Leach for The Conversation highlights many of the issues that define the ear disease crisis and what can be done about it.
Since the article was written in 2016, much progress has been made through the CRE-ICHEAR to help combat many of these issues. For example, the OM Guideline has been updated - a national medical guideline that provides clincians with the latest evidence based approaches to prevent, diagnose, treat and manage ear disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The Guidelines are also available as a smart phone app - the Otitis Media app - which is available through Apple's App Store and Google Play.
Through advocacy with Minister Ken Wyatt several of our members ensured that closing the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ear and hearing health was made a national priority and led to the publication on the Roadmap for Hearing Health. We also participated in the WHO World Hearing Forum and brought an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective to this important global meeting of stakeholders.
On the ground, there are many initiatives beyond the CRE-ICHEAR that are changing the way primary and tertiary health services are delivered. For example, community driven speech pathology services, outreach audiology services, ENT Telehealth and training local Aboriginal people as Ear Health Facilitators in remote Northern Territory communities through the Hearing for Learning Initiative. Changes in service delivery models such as these ensure equitible access to culturally appropriate services and may serve as models for others to follow.
Much work still remains and ear disease continues to persist among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. However, through improved prevention, early diagnosis, effective treatments and management we can dramatically reduce the impact of ear disease on a child's life and this is worth shouting about this Hearing Awareness Week.
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