A Federal Government initiative to reduce hearing loss in young First Nations children is helping to close the gap in hearing health and preventing long-term impacts of hearing loss, government ministers claim.
Hearing loss results from several factors, including genetic causes, complications at birth, infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, use of certain medicines, injuries and accidents, exposure to loud noise and ageing.
However, according to the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), hearing loss among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is widespread and much more common than for non-Indigenous Australians.
Remote vs metro
The NIAA said there were 290,400 (43 percent) of Indigenous Australians aged seven and over with measured hearing loss in one or both ears in 2018–19, and the proportion was higher in remote areas (59 percent) than non-remote areas (39 percent).
In response to this, the Hearing Assessment Program – Early Ears (HAPEE) was established in 2019 to reduce ear disease and prevent hearing loss in young First Nations children.
Hearing Australia runs the HAPEE Program, which is available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are not yet attending full-time school.
$100 million investment
Part of the government’s $100 million investment to improve the ear and hearing health outcomes for this sector, the program provided free clinical assessments of ear and hearing health to over 14,000 First Nations children in 2022/23.
Around 49 percent were found to have undiagnosed ear disease and 26 percent had undiagnosed hearing loss. Many required a referral to medical practitioners and specialists for follow-up care.
Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten, said more than 60 percent of children seen for a follow-up appointment now have better ear health and hearing.
“This is just wonderful because not only is access to sound important for early language development, it is integral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s connection to culture, family, community, and history,” Minister Shorten said.
“These results would not be possible without the strong support of local community-controlled health services.”
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, said the government is partnering with the First Nations community-controlled sector, Hearing Australia and hearing health experts to streamline program funding and transition service delivery being developed by the National Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).
“It is critical that we continue to build the capacity and capability of Aboriginal community-controlled health services to ensure they are able to deliver the culturally safe and effective services needed to improve the hearing health of their communities.”
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