The urgent need to improve Indigenous Australians’ ear health

The rates of ear disease and its associated complications, like hearing loss, are currently far more prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children than the general population.

Professor Kelvin Kong is a proud Worimi man and the first Aboriginal fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ (RACS). He is an Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon dedicated to addressing and raising awareness of Indigenous ear health.

The rate of burden from hearing loss in Indigenous children aged 0-14 years is 12 times as for non-Indigenous children. According to a 2013 report, some Indigenous communities have a prevalence of chronic suppurative otitis media – severe middle ear infection with chronic discharge – up to 10 times higher than the 4% that the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies as being ‘a massive public health problem’ requiring ‘urgent attention’.

Chronic, recurrent otitis media and its complications can have negative impacts on children’s education, childhood development and social outcomes.

Kong graduated from the University of New South Wales in 1999 and was awarded his fellowship with the RACS in 2007. His passion is to ensure that all children have the same opportunities to hear well and achieve their potential. His dream is to reduce the disparity between health and learning outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

He spends a portion of time each year working in remote Australian communities to provide access to otherwise limited or unavailable ear health services. His clinical work is complemented by his ongoing research at the Hunter Medical Research Institute into the causes and treatment of otitis media.

King is also a board member for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, private practitioner at Hunter ENT, and Professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle.

Kong was also nominated for New South Wales Australian of the Year Award for 2023. You can watch the national Awards, presented on Wednesday 25 January in Canberra, at 7:30pm (AEDT) on ABC and iView.

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