More than 80% of Aboriginal children in Australia suffer from middle-ear infections before they are 12 months old, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia. That is one of the highest rates in the world.'
Repeated infections, which cause fluid to build up behind the ear drum, have led to 20% of Aboriginal children suffering from ruptured ear drums.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers any figure above 4% to be a "massive public health problem requiring immediate action".
The Aboriginal rate is on par with countries like Tanzania, India and the Solomon Islands and is higher than the rates in Nigeria and Mozambique. The rest of Australia has one of the lowest rates in the world.
Great impact on the children´s futures
The research paper called for more urgent research into reducing ear diseases in indigenous communities. The paper also showed the need to examine the effects that hygiene, breastfeeding, exposure to cigarette smoke and household over-crowding have on infections.
"The more we delay, the more children are suffering serious damage to their hearing that can impact on their future education, employment and quality of life," said associate professor Deborah Lehmann from The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.
Child health research associate from the University of Western Australia, Lea-Ann Kirkham, said non-Aboriginal children had their ears checked for infections earlier and more frequently than indigenous children.
"Often with these diseases the children don't have symptoms until their ear drum bursts. The child isn't crying or irritable and this may be something to do with their immunity," Dr Kirkham said.
Australia spends more than $100 million each year on treating middle-ear infections.