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Lend me your ear: New program targets hearing problems in NT children


Neelima Choahan


7/09/2018 10:16:00 AM

A new initiative will employ and train community members to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of ear disease and hearing problems in Northern Territory children.

Dr Kelvin Kong (left) says the Hearing for Learning program aim to stem chronic ear disease and hearing problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the NT. (Image: Simone De Peak)
Dr Kelvin Kong (left) says the Hearing for Learning program aim to stem chronic ear disease and hearing problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the NT. (Image: Simone De Peak)

Australia’s first Aboriginal surgeon, Dr Kelvin Kong, will be part of a team training communities to help stem chronic ear disease and hearing problems among children in the Northern Territory (NT).
 
The Hearing for Learning program aims to reduce the need for fly-in fly-out specialists in remote communities and decrease the treatment waiting period by upskilling community members to support health and education services on the ground.
 
Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Kong, who will co-lead the five-year initiative, said the program has a ‘community-based approach’.
 
‘The more capacity you build into the communities the better the health outcome,’ he told newsGP.
 
‘The most important part of the program is how … we transfer the knowledge or the education back into the community.’

Indigenous_hearing_Profile.jpgDr Kelvin Kong said, once trained, ear health project officers should be able to conduct basic medical examinations and be able to navigate the complex health system in order to help get their patients access appropriate care. (Image: Simone De Peak)
 
According to data supplied by the NT Government, 90% of Aboriginal children in the territory under the age of three have an ear disease. Most of them will experience hearing loss that can affect early brain development and can ultimately lead to entrenched disadvantage.
 
The Hearing for Learning program, which is a NT Government initiative founded on research by scientists at the Menzies School of Health Research, hopes to reach 5000 children, particularly those under the age of three.
 
Dr Kong, who is a Worimi man, said while Australia has a healthcare system that is the envy of the world in many ways, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ healthcare does not necessarily get the attention it deserves.
 
‘So what we want to do is to find … influencers,’ he said.
 
‘This is a holistic approach. This is not about doing an X amount of operations, this is not about doing X amount of hearing tests.
 
‘This is about having hearing as an important aspect of health.’
 
Dr Kong said once trained, ear health project officers should be able to conduct basic medical examinations and be able to navigate the complex health system in order to help get their patients access appropriate care.
 
‘We want to teach them to look into ears, see holes in ears, see perforation, know how to manage them, know what to do,’ he said.
 
‘They are not going to be able to necessarily prescribe or treat or do surgery, but they are going to be able to know “this kid is all right, this kid is not all right”.’
 
The program, which combines public and private funding including a $2.4 million grant from The Balnaves Foundation, will start in four remote sites and is expected to be rolled out in up to 20 communities employing about 40 community-based workers who will be locally trained and supported.
 
Neil Balnaves, Founder of The Balnaves Foundation and Chancellor of Charles Darwin University, said the unique partnership will solve what has now become a ‘serious epidemic’.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said hearing health has an enormous impact on a child’s development.
 
‘When we focus on the first 1000 days of a child’s life, we know we get better outcomes for their future, and that’s what this partnership aims to do,’ Mr Gunner said.
 
‘By addressing this at a community level, the entire community will benefit.’



Balnaves Foundation ear health Hearing for Learning



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