Earbus Foundation of Western Australia [EFWA] is a multi-award winning charity established 2013 to reduce the incidence and impact of Otitis media [OM] or middle ear disease on Aboriginal and at-risk children. EFWA is an incorporated association of members under the WA Associations Incorporation Act (2015). The Earbus Foundation is on a mission to reduce the incidence of middle ear disease in Indigenous and at-risk children below the World Health Organisation benchmark of 4% on the way to achieving parity in ear health for Aboriginal children. Their vision is that current and future generations of Indigenous children can succeed at school unhindered by the debilitating effects of Otitis media and its impacts upon their ability to learn and achieve to their full potential.
EFWA engages with communities upon invitation from the community itself and delivers services to where children are in a best practice model of cross-cultural collaboration. The EFWA team does not sit in a clinic waiting for clients to arrive. It goes to where children are. Aboriginal children suffer a disproportionate burden of ear disease compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts at a rate almost 3 times that of non-Indigenous children. Healthy ears are the key to children’s learning at school, kids who can’t hear can’t learn. In some urban schools, 75% of enrolled Aboriginal children cannot hear adequately. In regional and remote schools, the figure is sometimes as high as 100%. EFWA is a potentially prophylactic intervention that can increase school retention by making sure children can hear and learn. School attendance can be pointless for a child who can’t hear. Ear disease is a disease of poverty; caused by social determinants that include overcrowded housing, poor nutrition, low levels of hygiene, lack of sanitation, infection control and more. Hearing loss can have an impact on social and emotional wellbeing, leading to behavioural problems, such as irritability and disobedience, which in turn can lead to social isolation, problems with school attendance and early school-leaving. These compounding problems can lead to life-long negative social consequences for the child, as well as for their family and community – limited employment options and income; increased antisocial behaviours; and a heightened risk of contact with the criminal justice system. The only escape route from poverty is through education; good hearing is vital for children to access education and realise their innate potential. The EEFWA is alleviating the burden on under-skilled regional medical centres and hospitals; providing support to children who might miss out on mainstream services and opening up a pathway out of poverty via education for Aboriginal children. EFWA triages, treats and manages the ear health of Aboriginal and at-risk children across 120 sites state-wide, visiting most regions 10 times a year. The intractable pathology of middle ear disease is such that regular treatment with ongoing management and continuity of care is integral to improving outcomes.
EFWA’s highly specialised, multi-disciplinary team are experienced at working cross-culturally and provide comprehensive, direct follow up with families, schools and local health services after every trip. EFWA staff and consultants undergo comprehensive cultural training in close partnership with AMS staff and Indigenous Education Managers and are all hired first and foremost to align with EFWA’s organisational values in line with EFWA’s core operating principles. EFWA has attracted and retained a group of exceptional clinicians all working together to achieve great outcomes. The ability to work cross-culturally as well as in collaboration with multiple agencies can be a challenging task. EFWA cannot overstate the importance of having a team of core staff and a group of reliable, aligned consultants bound by shared values delivering their services to the regions.
With a gap in service provision to Aboriginal populations across regional and remote WA, EFWA developed an Outreach Program in consultation with communities to specifically deal with the entrenched and intractable issue of Aboriginal children’s poor ear health. No previous program could demonstrate measurable improvement in hearing for these children. EFWA’s innovative service design has significantly and measurably reduced ear infections, hearing loss and chronic ear disease (CSOM) in pre-school and primary school-aged Aboriginal children in every region where it has operated. EFWA’s long-term goal is improved ear healthcare outcomes with a genuinely sustainable model in place. EFWA has been able to demonstrate actual, measurable change in the incidence, impact and trajectory of middle ear disease via an innovative service model and passionate commitment to making real change. EFWA has many stories of children whose lives have been changed by their pioneering work in Aboriginal ear health, including testimonials from schools, daycares and parents who testify to the transformative effect of fixing kids ears so they can hear and learn.
For further information on Earbus Foundation of Western Australia visit earbus.org.au