May 27, 2021

New partnership to boost children’s ear health and schooling

Earbus Launch 2
Alcoa Wagerup Refinery Manager Adam Gilbert joined Bindjareb elder Franklyn Nannup and Earbus Foundation WA CEO Paul Higginbotham at the launch event.

Earbus Foundation of WA and Alcoa have announced a new three-year partnership to deliver vital ear checks and treatment for Aboriginal and educationally at-risk children in Kwinana, Peel and the Upper South West.

Earbus has operated in the South West since 2016. The Alcoa Earbus Program will expand their reach – providing regular visits to 30 schools across the local government areas of Kwinana, Murray and Waroona as well as parts of the shires of Harvey and Serpentine-Jarrahdale.

Earbus Foundation CEO Paul Higginbotham said ear infections occurred among Aboriginal children at a far higher rate than non-Indigenous children and could have a serious, adverse effect on the ability to learn.

Mr Higginbotham said while Australia’s overall population had one of the lowest rates of chronic ear disease in the world, the World Health Organisation included a “special listing” for Australia’s Indigenous people alongside its list of the five countries with the highest rates of middle-ear disease.

He said the funding from Alcoa was vital to continue reducing the incidence and impact of middle ear disease across the Kwinana, Peel and Upper South West regions.

“We were first invited into the region by Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Bunbury Principal Tegan Davies in mid-2016. On our first visit every child bar one in Kindy, Pre-primary, Year 1 and Year 2 had ear disease. 30% of the kids in that school had a hearing loss that was interfering with their ability to learn. This is the sad reality for many Aboriginal children across our State. Since then, the ear health at that school has dramatically improved and this is our aspiration for the whole region through our partnership with Alcoa,” Mr Higginbotham said.

Alcoa Australia Corporate Affairs Director Jodie Read said the program marked the next phase of the company’s partnership with Earbus, after it initially came on board to support the delivery of its South West services in 2018.

“Through the Alcoa Earbus Program we hope to play a small role in supporting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and at-risk children in the communities where we operate by helping them overcome poor ear health and its impacts on their ability to learn and thrive beyond the classroom,” Ms Read said.

Peta Kapor, Deputy Principal of Carcoola Primary School in North Pinjarra, said Earbus had helped the school’s students ensure they had “the best educational opportunities”.

“Carcoola Primary School has been involved in the Earbus program since 2019. All Aboriginal students have been assessed through the program as well as many of our students who require additional support. This service has provided support for all our students, ensuring they have the best educational opportunities, and any issues with their hearing is picked up early and treated allowing them to reach their full potential through ‘listening and learning’,” she said.

Earbus Foundation was established in 2013 to deliver world class ear care in regional and remote communities. Today, it services over 120 sites across Western Australia and has helped thousands of children, deploying inter-disciplinary clinical teams into each region.

Comprising a Screener, GP/Nurse Practitioner; Audiologist and Ear Nose & Throat Specialist, each Earbus team provides a mobile one stop shop at locations convenient for communities, including schools. Meticulous records and trackable case notes are kept, ensuring children receive any ongoing care and support they need.

With all services together in the one place, Earbus makes sure no stones are unturned in terms of treating ear conditions, addressing the symptoms of ear conditions and preventing a recurrence of ear disease. Earbus works in partnership with a range of organisations, including Aboriginal Medical Services, Royal Flying Doctor Service and Starlight Children’s Foundation to provide an extremely effective service through reliable, ongoing checks and treatment.