Opposition leader Mark McGowan has pledged to expand a program diagnosing inner ear infections in children to the Kimberley; a move he says would improve behaviour, education and give children a better chance at life.
Earlier this year a parliamentary committee reported ‘third world’ rates of hearing loss among Aboriginal children in the Kimberley and Pilbara had prompted some schools to install classroom speaker systems and use sign language interpreters.
“What you find is amongst indigenous kids; massive levels of hearing loss, and that’s because inner ear infections go undiagnosed,” Mr McGowan said today.
“In the Kimberley it is far more prevalent because the Aboriginal population is far higher than any other part of WA.”
Mr McGowan said indigenous children’s’ susceptibility to middle ear infections created hearing problems and could lead to learning difficulties, behavioural problems and a drop in school attendance.
“You’ve got to diagnose it early and fix it early and that allows them to excel at school, allows them to hear and fixes a lot of behaviour (problems)” he said.
If elected, a WA Labor Government would provide $3.6million over three years to expand the Telethon Speech and Hearing Earbus program to the Kimberley region.
“It’s often quite easy to fix these problems, my own children needed grommets in their ears, it’s a simple procedure, it’s a simple operation but unless you know that they have a problem, it’s impossible to fix it,” Mr McGowan said
He said in 2011, Earbus screened 3344 children, with only 50.5 per cent passing, 34.5 per cent needing further screening and 14.9 per cent needing treatment by a GP or ear, nose and throat specialist.
The Earbus program is a network of mobile clinics that travel throughout the Perth metropolitan area and the South West and Pilbara regions to screen children’s ear health and hearing.
Earbus teams have trained ear health screeners, a GP, nurse and Aboriginal outreach worker and are fitted with audiological equipment.