More needs to be done to prevent and treat otitis media (otherwise known as middle ear inflammation), which is a major health problem in Indigenous communities and can lead to permanent hearing loss, according to the editor of a supplement on the condition published in the 2 November issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.
Each year, three to five Australian children die from complications related to otitis media and another 15 suffer permanent hearing loss.
Advertisement"Indigenous Australian children account for the highest prevalence of chronic suppurative otitis media in the world (70 per cent in some remote communities). The World Health Organization regards a prevalence of chronic suppurative otitis media of over four per cent in a defined population of children as a massive public health problem requiring urgent attention," Professor Harvey Coates, Clinical Professor at the University of Western Australia and Senior Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in Perth said.
"Otitis media affects up to 80 per cent of Australian children by the age of three years, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to experience recurrent disease at an earlier age - 73 per cent of Indigenous children will experience otitis media before the age of 12 months.
"The end result of various forms of otitis media, when they are not adequately treated, is significant conductive hearing loss with a resultant speech and language delay, especially where English is a child's second or third language. This results in educational problems, social isolation, truancy, and ultimately to early school leaving and difficulties gaining employment.
"The necessary programs to implement changes in the fundamental and underlying causes of otitis media, especially in Indigenous communities, are not being provided.
"Chronic suppurative otitis media is a disease of poverty, and without actions to lessen overcrowding and provide appropriate housing and water supply, education of parents, and adequate access to medical care, progress to improvement will be slow."