Kalgoorlie Miner

Bus to offer ear health boost

- AMBER LILLEY

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have the “worst ear health in the world” inspired Earbus Foundation chief executive Paul Higginboth­am to bring change to the Goldfields.

The Earbus Foundation will be visiting the Goldfields region for five days from March 22 to provide ear checks and medical care for Indigenous children, with a focus on otitis media, also known as middle-ear disease. Mr Higginboth­am said the disease affected Indigenous children at a higher rate and for longer than non-Indigenous children, stalling their developmen­t before they even started school.

“On average, they have it for 32 months of the first five years of life, compared to three months for non-Indigenous kids,” he said.

“Children learn to listen and speak before learning to read and write. When children do not develop adequate spoken language by four years of age, they will fail to hit their numeracy and literacy milestones — and that puts enormous obstacles in front of them.

“If you want to close the gap in this country, ear healthcare for all, from birth, is vital.”

Earbus Foundation clinician Lucy Mitchell said otitis media was an inflammati­on of the middle ear and could occur with or without an infection. “It is important to screen for otitis media because not only can it cause pain and discomfort for these children, but it can also cause hearing loss,” she said.

“By screening for otitis media, the hearing loss can be treated and can be fixed if we can identify these kids and engage them in the program. As a result, this program supports children to reach their full potential.”

Mr Higginboth­am said the foundation’s role was to help communitie­s with little access to resources ensure the ear health of their children was taken into account.

“These families and communitie­s care about their kids and do their best for them, but it is hard without the material resources and the people with expertise on the ground — and that is our role, getting the qualified people with the right equipment and medicine out to where these children are,” he said.

“We have seen so many kids turn things around at school, and they are so much happier without the pain and frustratio­n of poor ear health holding them back.”

The mobile unit will be based in Kalgoorlie-Boulder with a nurse, doctor and audiologis­t.

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