The high number of Indigenous children suffering middle ear infections will continue to rise unless urgent action is taken to tackle overcrowding, provide appropriate housing and water supply, adequate access to medical care and education on the issue for parents, according to eminent West Australian paediatric ear, nose and throat specialist Professor Harvey Coates.
Professor Coates, a Clinical Professor at The University of Western Australia and Senior Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, is the editor of a supplement on otitis media, also known as middle ear inflammation, to be published in today's 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.
"More needs to be done to prevent and treat otitis media, which is a major health problem in Indigenous communities and can lead to permanent hearing loss," Professor Coates said.
"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."
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.
Professor Coates said the end result of various forms of otitis media, if not adequately treated, was significant conductive hearing loss with a resultant speech and language delay, especially where English was 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," he said.