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Middle-ear disease

By Elizabeth Murray - posted Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Western Australian government announced last month that epidemic rates of chronic middle-ear disease and hearing loss are hampering education outcomes in the north-west.

The Education and Health Standing Committee tabled a report on absenteeism and literacy, and the impact of hearing on educational outcomes.

Prevalent middle-ear disease in the region is not a new problem - for any other illness and any other disability, funding would have been prioritized, but hearing loss and middle-ear disease is an invisible disability.


Funding is similarly invisible when it comes down to the specialist help these kids need to keep up with hearing teachers' expectations in mainstream hearing schools.

The rate of middle-ear disease in this region is one of the highest in the world, according to the World Health Organization and it isextraordinary that the problem, generally attributed to a lack of services and economic disadvantage, coexists with one of the most affluent mining areas in the world.

For the WA government the results, and some politicians' responses to them, were telling.

Ninety-four per cent of children in one lower-primary school had middle-ear disease or a related hearing loss.

The health minister proposed viable changes that would take six months to implement, but would not be introduced unless he was re-elected in March next year, relegating these sick children to being a political football.

In a hearing school system hearing-impaired students do not follow tuition as well as those who can hear and who are not chronically-ill.


Problematic non-attendance among 30% of the sick NW students, the media reported, added up to between two to five years of time off school.

Learning externally or home education present good options for kids with hearing loss and chronic middle-ear disease, and present logical alternatives to continued academic struggles and absences.

Without first-hand experience, the Committee members may not know that when a child has chronic ear-disease, the time when their pain is at its worst is when they try to go to sleep.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Murray is a freelance journalist.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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