Djaalinj Waakinj leads to better hearing – and happier kids

More than 150 children are currently enrolled in an innovative program led by Telethon Kids Institute that is helping slash waiting times for Aboriginal children suffering from potentially debilitating ear infections.

The project – based in Perth’s south – is a unique clinical research program which focuses on early intervention to diagnose and fast-track treatment of children with middle ear infections (otitis media) to prevent hearing loss.

Ear health a priority

More than 150 children are currently enrolled in the project, which has dramatically reduced waiting times to allow children to have their ear problems checked within days.

Dr Chris Brennan-Jones, Head of Ear Health at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, based at Telethon Kids Institute, said there was a clear need to prioritise early testing and treatment for Aboriginal children suffering otitis media (OM). 

“Some children spend over two years on waiting lists for treatment of ear infections. That’s too long for children who are in crucial stages of language, behavioural and educational development.”

Dr Brennan-Jones

“Working with the local Aboriginal community, the Djaalinj Waakinj (listening and talking) Ear Portal Program was established to address this gap. It ensures access to early diagnosis and intervention – within days instead of years – by reducing unnecessary travel and waiting times.”

Middle ear infections in Australia are common among children, but they disproportionately affect certain groups. A Telethon Kids study found that young Aboriginal children are at increased risk of developing middle ear infections compared to non-Aboriginal children.

The Djaalinj Waakinj (listening and talking) Ear Portal Program is a telehealth-driven clinical research program which uses technology to remotely diagnose and prioritise treatment of children with otitis media to prevent hearing loss.

Hearing loss caused by untreated OM is a lifelong burden, with the impact on lost wellbeing (due to unemployment, impacts on mental health and quality of life) estimated to cost $17.4 billion per annum in Australia.

Providing access for Aboriginal families

Val Swift, Aboriginal Cultural Governance Advisor at Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases said the program was aiming to make sure no child in the local community starts school with preventable or treatable hearing loss.

“There is an assumption that living in metropolitan Perth means you can access medical services without restrictions. But that isn’t the case for many Aboriginal families,” Ms Swift said.

“By working with the community to design and deliver the program, we’re ensuring the cultural security of the program so families feel safe and comfortable to participate. We’re making this a service they can access without restrictions.”