The #earhealthforlife network is committed to a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Hearing Health Taskforce that can provide evidence-based advice to Government about hearing health.
The continuing prevalence of ear disease and hearing loss in Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations is a clear barrier to closing the gap priorities. In the case of ear disease, Kong & Coates (2009) highlight the difficulty in establishing incidence and prevalence rates across Australia due to definitional and diagnostic differences and uncertainty. One estimate from the World Health Organization in 1996 reported Aboriginal people had among the highest rates of chronic otitis media in the world (12-25%), and cautioned that a prevalence of >4% indicates a massive public health problem requiring urgent attention. A 2010 Senate Inquiry into hearing health in Australia recommended a national dataset and register for neonatal hearing screening that could track children through neonatal hearing screening, diagnosis and intervention, and eventually all children diagnosed with a hearing impairment later in life.
At the biennial Australian Otitis Media conferences in 2014 and 2016, experts in the field of chronic ear disease from all around Australia passed motions calling on governments to establish a national hearing health taskforce and program as a matter of urgency.
#earhealthfor life proposes governments support this taskforce to better measure outcomes rather than activity, and improve data linkage by establishing national key performance indicators. A taskforce could also help guide a more holistic approach to hearing healthcare. As a minimum basis for benchmarking, we recommend governments measure:
- Ear discharge ratio: number with ear discharge/ number measured.
- Coverage ratio: number measured/total population.
The #earhealthforlife team has recently met in Canberra with the Commonwealth Minister for Health Greg Hunt, the Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt, Prime Minister & Cabinet, Department of Health, the Hon. Warren Snowdon, the Hon. Catherine King and the Hon. Sharon Claydon.
Key outcomes of the meetings are below.
- Greg Hunt is committed to ‘ending preventable blindness and deafness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ and encouraged us to bring back a proposal to his office, with potential funding available through the Medical Research Futures Fund.
- Ken Wyatt will follow up with the Qld Minister for Health Cameron Dick to find out where ear disease is on the COAG agenda. A paper has been prepared by the Qld Government as part of this process which summarises feedback from all of the jurisdictions and makes recommendations about the way forward. Minister Wyatt also plans to meet with the Primary Healthcare Networks to ‘form an alliance on Otitis Media’.
- The Department of Health commissioned an independent review of its Healthy Ears Better Hearing Better Listening program. The consultants, Siggins Miller, have provided the report to the DoH and we have requested a copy of the recommendations, which Minister Wyatt’s office is expecting this week.
- Prime Minister & Cabinet plans to finalise its review of the Government’s Closing the Gap targets by mid-2018 and this body of work will be discussed at the COAG Health Council meeting in mid-December. We are advocating to have ear health better recognised as an indicator in the targets.
- The Hon. Catherine King would like a national policy proposal on how to address ear disease as soon as possible. Labor policy in the lead up to the next Federal Election will be finalised between now and the end of 2017.
The #earhealthforlife information booklet is available here.
NACCHO will be including a segment on ear health at its national conference October 31 – 1 November.