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Alcoa backs Earbus' vital ongoing work with Indigenous children

Giovanni Torre -

A unique program that tackles ear health for Aboriginal and at-risk children will run locally for at least another three years in WA's South West, delivering much needed care.

Alcoa Foundation, the aluminium producer's global charity, will provide Earbus Foundation of Western Australia with $450,000 over three years, allowing Earbus to continue delivering ear health services in Kwinana, Peel and the 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 occur among Aboriginal children at a significantly higher rate than non-Indigenous children and can have a serious, adverse effect on the ability to learn.

While Australia's overall population has one of the lowest rates of chronic ear disease in the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a special listing for Australia's Indigenous people alongside its list of the five countries with the highest rates of middle-ear disease.

Earbus Foundation was established in 2013 to deliver world class ear care in regional and remote communities. It now services more than 100 sites across WA, deploying inter-disciplinary clinical teams and helping thousands of children who would otherwise not receive a service.

The "one stop shop" mobile clinic goes where the kids are, travelling to schools, daycares, kindergartens and early learning centres. The service is free to communities, removing cost and accessibility as barriers to Aboriginal and other at-risk children receiving the care they need.

Alcoa's support to date has enabled Earbus to conduct 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 been reduced and rates of hearing loss have dropped from 11.6 per cent to 4.7 per cent.

The new partnership with Alcoa's global charity, the Alcoa Foundation was officially launched on 20 November at Harvey Primary School. This school regularly receives a service from the Earbus.

Attending the launch on 20 November, Alcoa of Australia's Director of Corporate Affairs Jodie Read said "equitable access to education, especially for Indigenous and at-risk people, is a priority for the Foundation and one of the reasons why this partnership with Earbus Foundation is so important to us".

Deputy Principal of Harvey Primary School, Simon Philp, said Earbus services provide early intervention that help kids succeed at school.

"Having access to regular services pinpoints issues with hearing as well as learning difficulties, particularly in the younger years. This means we can get on top of the issues, support those students, get things sorted … it's an essential service that we look forward to continuing in the future," he said.

Alcoa Foundation Launch. Image: Earbus.

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 Western Australia.

"This renewed partnership with the Alcoa Foundation is an outstanding commitment to the health and wellbeing of children across this region. This funding will allow Earbus to continue to build on our awardwinning program, taking the multi-disciplinary team of ear health screener, audiologist and nurse practitioner to where children are. It will enable us to continue to provide a high-quality screening, treatment and surveillance program," Dr Shur said.

Earbus works in partnership with a range of organisations, including South West Aboriginal Medical Services (SWAMS).

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