Coordinated approach needed to improve Indigenous ear health
Ear health is the focus of the 2017 AMA Indigenous Health Report Card, with doctors calling on all Governments to works towards ending chronic otitis media.
Releasing the Report Card in Canberra on November 29, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon challenged the Federal Government and those of the States and Territories to work with health experts and Indigenous communities to put an end to the scourge of poor ear health affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
The Report’s focus on ear health was part of the AMA’s step by step strategy to create awareness in the community and among political leaders of the unique health problems that have been eradicated in many parts of the world, but which still afflict Indigenous Australians.
“It is a tragedy that in 21st century Australia, poor ear health, especially chronic otitis media, is still condemning Indigenous people to a life sentence of hearing problems – even deafness,” Dr Gannon said.
“Chronic otitis media is a disease of poverty, linked to poorer social determinants of health including unhygienic, overcrowded conditions, and an absence of health services.
“It should not be occurring here in Australia, one of the world’s richest nations. It is preventable.
“Otitis media is caused when fluid builds up in the middle ear cavity and becomes infected.
“While the condition lasts, mild or moderate hearing loss is experienced. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent hearing loss.”
Dr Gannon said that for most non-Indigenous Australian children, otitis media is readily treated, but for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, it is not.
Estimates show that an average Indigenous child will endure middle ear infections and associated hearing loss for at least 32 months, from age two to 20 years, compared with just three months for a non-Indigenous child.
The Report Card, A National Strategic Approach to Ending Chronic Otitis Media and its Life Long Impacts in Indigenous Communities, was launched in Parliament House by Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt
Mr Wyatt commended the AMA on its 2017 Report Card.
Over the past 15 years, he said, the AMA’s annual Report Card on Indigenous Health has highlighted health priorities in Australia’s Aboriginal peoples and communities.
“Reports can be daunting and they can be challenging,” the Minister said.
“But above all, they can be inspiring.”
Mr Wyatt said it was a tragedy that the most common of ear infections and afflictions were almost entirely preventable.
Yet left untreated in Indigenous children, they had lifelong effects on education, employment and well-being.
“It’s not somebody else’s responsibility. It’s the responsibility of all of us,” he said.
“Hearing is fundamental.”
Shadow Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon also commended the AMA on its report.
He said the Government and the Opposition worked collaboratively on Indigenous health issues.
“We’re not interested in making this a point of political difference, we’re interested in making it a national priority,” he said.
Green’s Indigenous Health spokeswoman Senator Rachel Siewert welcomed the Report and stressed the importance of addressing Indigenous health issues.
Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon, ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Kelvin Kong, who is also the Chair of the Australian Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery’s Aboriginal Health Subcommittee, received the report with enthusiasm.
He said cross-party support on this issue had been “phenomenal”.
Dr Gannon said the AMA wants a national, systematic approach to closing the gap in the rates of chronic otitis media between Indigenous and non-Indigenous infants and children in Australia.
The Report calls on Governments to act on three core recommendations: namely, that a coordinated national strategic response to chronic otitis media be developed by a National Indigenous Hearing Health Taskforce under Indigenous leadership for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG); that the wider impacts of otitis media-related developmental impacts and hearing loss, including on a range of areas of Indigenous disadvantage such as through the funding of research as required are addressed; and that attention of governments be re-directed to the recommendations of the AMA’s 2015 Indigenous Health Report Card, which called for an integrated approach to reducing Indigenous imprisonment rates by addressing underlying causal health issues.
“We urgently need a coordinated national response to the lasting, disabling effects and social impacts of chronic otitis media in the Indigenous adult population,” Dr Gannon said.
The AMA Indigenous Health Report Card 2017 A National Strategic Approach to Ending Chronic Otitis Media and its Life Long Impacts in Indigenous Communities can be found at article/2017-ama-report-card-indigenous-health-national-strategic-approach-ending-chronic-otitis