The Government today committed $29.4 million to extend the Healthy Ears – Better Hearing, Better Listening Program, to help ensure tens of thousands more Indigenous children and young adults grow up with good hearing and the opportunities it brings.
Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt AM said the program would be extended until 2021-22, expanding on its successes in communities across the nation.
“Hearing loss can have a devastating and lifelong impact on education, employment and wellbeing,” Minister Wyatt said.
“Since Healthy Ears began just over four years ago, approximately 120,000 children and young adults have received its services in at least 400 locations, with its family approach ensuring far better access to doctors, nurses and hearing specialists.
“Continuing this life-changing work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to stamp out ear disease, particularly otitis media, is one of my top health priorities.”
Healthy Ears focuses on young people until the age of 21, linking health professionals such as GPs, nurses, audiologists and speech pathologists – some of them travelling to remote communities regularly from city locations – with families and schools to prevent and stop the spread of ear disease.
There has been a significant decline in the national proportion of Indigenous children aged 0–14 years with self-reported ear or hearing problems, from 11% in 2001 to 8% in 2014–15, with the decline in remote areas steeper, from 18% to 11%.
However, the proportion of Indigenous children with otitis media is triple the rate for non-Indigenous children, with the Northern Territory and Western Australia recording the highest rates of Indigenous children with hearing problems (11% and 10% respectively).
“Extending support for Healthy Ears is a fundamental part of our whole-of-Government approach to Closing the Gap in health equality, by working with families to tackle the wide variety of factors that impact on health, wellbeing and the opportunity to live a fulfilling and productive life,” Minister Wyatt said.
“For instance, a child’s healthy hearing journey starts with adequate breastfeeding, a wholesome diet, cutting exposure to tobacco smoke, having vaccinations up to date, ensuring that families teach their children to blow their noses regularly and early intervention if they have ear infections.”
The Government will also continue funding training for ear health professionals, hearing health equipment, diagnostic tools and the Care For Kids’ Ears health promotion materials.