23 March 2009

85 percent of Aborigine children in Northern Australia suffer from hearing problems

Chronic infections of the middle ear damage the hearing of Aborigine children in Australia's Northern Territory. Doctors are warning about negative social consequences of the hearing loss epidemic and are asking the Australian authorities to take action.

Among Aborigine children in the Northern Territory, 85 percent suffer from some level of hearing loss, according to a statement to the Australian Broadcast Corporation by Rebecca Allnut, a hearing specialist in charge of Australian Hearing in Alice Springs.

Poverty a factor

Infections of the middle ear are the primary cause of this hearing loss epidemic. Chronic ear infections are much more common among the aborigines than in the rest of the Australian population. This is partly due to problems associated with poverty, such as low hygienic standards and cramped housing conditions.

Chris Perry of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons termed the prevalent middle ear infections among Aborigine children ?an indication of poverty?. The infections typically occur shortly after birth and go untreated, explained Perry to the Australian Broadcast Corporation.

Social problems

Allnut and Perry point out that hearing damage has serious social consequences. When the children attend school they may have trouble concentrating because of their hearing loss, affecting their education adversely.

The state should take action

Perry stated that the prevalence of hearing infections among young aborigines is the highest in the world and a national shame.

He is urging the authorities to take action to alleviate the problem. Among his solutions is the establishment of more hearing clinics. Currently, there are just two such clinics in the entire Northern Territory.

The criticism leveled by the doctors and others is seemingly having some effect. According to the Central Australian Advocate newspaper, the federal government initiated a series of 'medic blitzes' in April 2008, checking the health of Aborigine children.

Sources: www.abc.net.au , www.centralianadvocate.com.au

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