3 June 2016
With National Reconciliation Week today drawing to a close,
surgeons are urging political and Aboriginal & Torres Strait
Islander leaders to put a higher priority on ensuring Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander children have access to regular hearing
President of the ASOHNS (Australian Society of Otolaryngology
Head and Neck Surgery) and ear nose and throat surgeon Dr Chris
Perry says disadvantage is being compounded by a 'pandemic of
deafness' among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
"One quarter of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory
and more than one third in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara
Yankunytjatjara lands in the remote north west of South Australia
have eardrum perforations from chronic ear infections," Dr Perry
"Otitis media, or middle ear infections, are not a normal part
of childhood - yet we are seeing extraordinarily high rates of
hearing loss from this condition. This damage is preventable.
"Up to 91 per cent of Aboriginal children have deafness for more
than three months of the year, and 100 per cent have an ear
infection under the age of three months.
"We know that ear disease and associated hearing loss can lead
to delayed speech and educational development, low self-esteem,
unemployment and a range of other health, social and economic
"If children can't hear their teachers they become bored and
troublesome. They may become truant, leave school early, and then
be stuck with no job or income. It may lead to substance abuse
problems, or gaol.
"Surgeons would like to see a more co-ordinated national
approach to such a devastating problem. Why isn't ear disease one
of the measurable objectives in the Closing the Gap health
outcomes? Why isn't there a coordinated, national program? How are
teachers supposed to cope in a classroom where up to 90 per cent of
the children may be deaf?
"The Queensland Deadly
Ears program has been tackling the pandemic of Aboriginal ear
disease for ten years, with considerable success. We need national
leadership and support to make this an Australia-wide program.
"The average Aboriginal child, more so in the bush than the
city, has hearing loss for 32 months of their first five years
compared to three months for a non-Aboriginal child.
"Let's end this national disgrace by adequately funding a
national program which will help reduce the high rates of hearing
loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children."
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) has included
Aboriginal ear health as a priority in its
2016 Australian Federal Election Position Statement. RACS also
Reconciliation Action Plan this week on June 1.
Download full media release (PDF 107KB)