RIDBC Indigenous Outreach Program receives a boost

03/10/13
RIDBC Audiometrist performs a hearing test during an outreach visit.RIDBC Audiometrist performs a hearing test during an outreach visit.

RIDBC Indigenous Outreach Program has received a $10,000 grant through the Commonweath Bank Community Grants Program.

The Program provides hearing and vision screening services to Indigenous children living in some regional and remote areas of NSW. The hearing screening service RIDBC provides helps support current efforts by government and other service providers to reduce the burden of otitis media in indigenous communities.

“Otitis media can have a major impact on the lives of Indigenous children - not just on their health or immediate future but in all aspects of their development and life outcomes,” said Director RIDBC Clinical Services, Craig Thomson.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies that a prevalence of chronic suppurative otitis media of greater than 4% is a significant public health issue. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities this number may be as high as 70%.

“Middle ear infections, such as otitis media, if left untreated can lead to permanent hearing loss. With such startlingly high numbers of children presenting with otitis media, this has serious implications for the hearing health of Indigenous Australians,” said Mr Thomson.

Research shows that left undetected even mild or unilateral hearing loss can result in delayed speech and language acquisition. Children are less able to communicate effectively at school and this can have a negative impact on their behaviour and academic performance.  

“Children can struggle to understand instructions in a noisy classroom environment and can lose focus,” said Mr Thomson.  “They don’t understand what’s happening around them and they don’t know how to fix the problem.”

“In many Indigenous communities across Australia, hearing loss is compounded by second language instruction – often non-Indigenous, English speaking teachers.”

Over the last three years, audiologists and other professionals in the RIDBC program have worked hard to build strong relationships within communities – working with local service providers, schools and teachers to provide the best outcome for children with hearing loss. 

The program not only provides hearing tests but also promotes ear health and provides on the ground professional development. 

“We help local schools and teachers to understand the challenges of having a hearing loss. Not talking to the blackboard when giving instructions is one very small change which can make a huge difference for children with hearing loss to learn and participate.”

Following the diagnosis of a hearing loss or middle ear condition, children require follow-up assessment by appropriate professionals to ensure that the condition has been properly treated or not recurred. In a remote community, there can be limited access to regular screening and reliable referral paths for children requiring hearing aids.

Significant gains have been made by the RIDBC Program in following up children identified with hearing loss, ensuring they are given appropriate treatment and put in touch with the necessary professionals.

A more coordinated approach between local health and education agencies is crucial to drive the program and take ownership in documenting outcomes, efficient follow up practices and maintaining good health programs within the Indigenous community.

The mentoring program implemented by RIDBC through CBA Community Grants will provide transitional support and audiometry skill and training for local community health workers.