Indigenous children’s ear health improving, but still a problem
Middle ear conditions are still common among Indigenous children in the Northern Territory, but hearing health services have had positive effects, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory: Hearing Health services 2012-2013, presents data on the hearing health services delivered under the National Partnership Agreement on Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (SFNT) during 2012-13.
The program replaced and expanded services delivered through the Child Health Check Initiative/Closing the Gap program which ran from August 2007 to June 2012. The report shows that during 2012-13, 1,807 audiology services were provided to 1,541 Indigenous children. These services are available to all Indigenous children under 16 years of age living in the Northern Territory.
'Seventy-two per cent of children who received audiology services were diagnosed with at least one type of middle ear condition,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman. 'Two-thirds of those with a middle ear condition had some form of hearing loss.'
'Fifty-one per cent of all children who received audiology services had some form of hearing loss, and 10% had moderate, severe or profound hearing impairment.'
'However, there is some good news. Among children in the SFNT program who had also received audiology services under previous programs, the proportion with at least one type of middle ear condition dropped from 86% to 73% and the proportion with hearing loss dropped from 75% to 60%,' Dr Al-Yaman said.
'Our report also found that 64% of these children experienced an improvement in the degree of hearing impairment, while 8% experienced deterioration.'
Long-term improvements in children's ear health were also seen. Of children who received 3 or more services over the course of all programs (August 2007 to June 2013), the proportion with at least one type of middle ear infection dropped from 84% at first service to 54% at last service. The proportion with hearing loss dropped from 85% to 64% and the proportion with moderate, severe or profound hearing impairment dropped from 23% to 8%.
There is evidence to suggest that improvements in children's ear health are likely the result of a combination of factors, including the natural process of maturation (where the incidence and prevalence of ear disease decreases with increasing age), and medical and public health interventions.
The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.