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Ear health improving for First Nations people: AIHW


Alisha Dorrigan


4/12/2023 3:44:48 PM

A new report shows the rates of ear and hearing problems have declined, while screening and audiology uptake have improved.

Teenage First Nations girl with headphones.
Ear and hearing health progress for First Nations people has been highlighted in a new AIHW report.

The first annual Ear and hearing health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people report has revealed the progress being made when it comes to ear and hearing health for First Nations people, particularly in children.
 
Released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the findings show that the rate of ear and hearing problems in children aged 14 and under has nearly halved since 2001, declining from 11% to 6.9% in 2018–19.
 
It has also been reported that within the first month of life, 94% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies had hearing checks in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australian.
 
The rates of access to publicly funded audiology services have also increased over the past decade, alongside the rate of First Nations people receiving ear or hearing related hospital procedures.
 
Dr Karen Nicholls, a Torres Strait Islander woman and Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, welcomed the findings and said GPs play a pivotal role in early intervention to reduce the burden of ear and hearing problems.
 
‘Hearing problems can affect speech, language, and also impact behavioural development of children,’ she told newsGP.
 
‘So, improving the hearing is critical for children to be able to fulfil their potential, and to see that there has been an improvement in hearing health and a reduction of hearing problems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations is actually pleasing.’
 
Ear, nose and throat surgeon and Worimi man Professor Kelvin Kong launched the report and said that most ear and hearing problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be prevented.
 
‘While First Nations people continue to experience elevated rates of ear and hearing problems, their ear and hearing health has steadily improved over the last 10 years due to new initiatives by government, Aboriginal Medical Services, non-government organisations, specialist medical and paramedical groups, and researchers,’ he said.
 
‘Access to culturally safe ear and hearing health specialist services is crucial for First Nations people to seek and receive timely diagnosis and treatment.’
 
Dr Nicholls says GPs are well placed to provide this care and to continue to improve ear and hearing health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
 
‘For hearing health to be addressed properly, [the approach] is usually multifaceted,’ she said.
 
‘It’s not only looking at the biomedical model, but it’s also addressing the social determinants of health that may be impacting.
 
‘That would be access to appropriate and good quality healthcare, it would be the doctors and the health services who advocate for appropriate housing and addressing overcrowding … as well as the education programs that are there to try and prevent poor hearing health for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people.’
 
The report also identified areas for improvement, including the need to reduce emergency presentations for ear and hearing related problems and wait times for hospital procedures. The lack of a standardised national classification system to code conditions and services used for individuals accessing ear and hearing healthcare is another issue that needs addressing, the report says.
 
The AIHW will continue to track improvements with ongoing surveillance and is also planning to set up a national Neonatal Hearing Screening Data Collection that will provide a source of consistent newborn screening data from across the country.
 
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