July 03, 2023

Ear health boost announced during NAIDOC Week

Alcoa Australia President Matt Reed checks out Earbus Foundation’s mobile clinic with Earbus Coordinator Chontae Hayden following the announcement of a renewed partnership that will continue to deliver ear health services to children in need across the Kwinana, Peel and Upper South West regions.

A unique program that tackles ear health for Aboriginal and at-risk children in a bid to avoid permanent hearing damage and associated educational challenges will run locally for at least another three years thanks to support from aluminium producer Alcoa.

In celebrating NAIDOC week, Alcoa has announced its global charity, the Alcoa Foundation, will provide Earbus Foundation of WA with about $450,000 to continue to deliver its program across the communities near where it operates in the Kwinana, Peel and Upper South West regions.

The commitment builds on the $330,000 in funding Alcoa has already provided in support of the innovative ear health service in this part of WA since 2018.

Ear infections among Aboriginal children occur at a far higher rate than in non-Indigenous children and can result in hearing loss episodes or permanent hearing damage, affecting their ability to learn.

Earbus delivers multi-level support to children and their families in their own communities with the aim of reducing the incidence of middle ear disease to below the World Health Organisation benchmark of 4 per cent.

Alcoa’s support to date has enabled Earbus to provide mobile one-stop-shop ear assessments for about 1,350 children across 33 schools, day care centres and early learning centres. That has included 3,046 ear screens, 1,647 hearing tests and 844 health checks.

Over the past three years, rates of middle ear disease in the areas served by the Alcoa Earbus program have reduced from 10.4 per cent to 9.4 per cent of the target population and rates of hearing loss have dropped from 11.6 per cent to 4.7 per cent.

Alcoa Australia President Matt Reed said the company was keen to help build on that success as there was nothing more important than a child’s health or education. 

“Middle ear disease seriously impacts early childhood development and we are proud to be helping to turn this around so these children can learn and achieve their full potential,” Mr Reed said.

“Hearing loss from middle ear disease can lead to a cycle of poverty, disengagement from education and reduced employment prospects. This partnership enables Earbus to give these children the best possible start in life with children who can hear more likely to be engaged in the classroom.” 

Earbus Foundation of WA CEO and Co-founder Dr Lara Shur said the program was crucial for improving the lives of some of the most at risk children in WA.

“This renewed partnership with Alcoa will allow us to continue this vital program with our team that includes an ear health screener, audiologist and nurse practitioner, enabling us to provide a quality screening, treatment and surveillance program,” Dr Shur said. 

Mr Reed added that the timing of the announcement was a great way for Alcoa to launch NAIDOC Week celebrations, which included multiple events across the company’s two bauxite mines and three alumina refineries in the south-west of WA and its aluminium smelter, in Portland, Victoria.