Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

$58.3m boost for Indigenous eye and ear health

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister

The Rudd Government will invest $58.3 million to help tackle eye and ear diseases in Indigenous communities – including diseases rarely seen outside the third world.

Too many Indigenous people suffer avoidable vision loss and hearing loss. That is unacceptable, and this investment will help turn that around.

The $58.3 million over four years includes:

  • at least 1,000 additional ear and eye surgical procedures will be made available, reflecting the high need for these services
  • a major increase in services to address trachoma, which will enable at least 10 regional teams to treat and help prevent the disease in NT, WA, SA and other states where trachoma is identified
  • expanding the Visiting Optometrist Scheme, to provide new and increased numbers of optometrist visits to remote and very remote communities
  • increased training of health workers to make sure they can pick up any hearing problems of Indigenous people as early as possible
  • investments in hearing medical equipment including audiometers, tympanometers (machines used to test hearing loss) and video-otoscopes (devices for looking inside the ears)
  • hearing-health promotion to increase awareness of ear disease and the importance of providing and following treatment to reduce hearing loss in Indigenous communities

The measure will also boost the qualifications of health professionals by increasing accredited training and will improve co-ordination of care.

This is about helping Indigenous kids get the start in life they deserve.

It will help them get a better start to education, which should deliver improvements in literacy and numeracy, which in turn has flow-on effects to improved employment outcomes.

This is an important initiative, and another downpayment to mark the Rudd Government’s determination to help close the appalling life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Approximately 20,000 Indigenous children suffer from trachoma in Australia.

Our objective must be clear: to eliminate trachoma among Indigenous Australians within a finite timeframe.

Many Indigenous children suffer from significant hearing loss. Rates of ear disease and hearing problems for indigenous children are three times those of non-Indigenous population.

Hearing problems are commonly linked to poor school attendance and educational outcomes. The early onset of middle ear infection, which results in fluctuating hearing loss, reduces active participation in education and limits future employment opportunities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also at increased risk of developing avoidable blindness and vision loss and are less likely to visit eye health care practitioners than other Australians.

The Rudd Government is already investing:

  • $805.5 million, as part of a landmark $1.6 billion Indigenous Health National Partnership, agreed by COAG in November 2008. This investment will target chronic disease, the single largest contributor to the life expectancy gap.
  • $564 million for the Indigenous Early Childhood Development National Partnership, agreed by COAG in October 2008. This investment will increase access to antenatal care and related health services, and child and maternal health services, and establish 35 Children and Family Centres across Australia, supporting the Government’s goal of halving the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under 5 years within a decade.