Grant to curb deafness and disadvantage

Sep 7 2018

Dr Kelvin Kong

A $69,000 RP Medical Fund philanthropic grant will accelerate a new project to offer early intervention in ear health in Aboriginal communities throughout the Hunter New England region.

Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon and HMRI researcher Dr Kelvin Kong, will lead the research project trialling a new method of early diagnosis of ear infections in rural and remote communities through the Aboriginal Medical Service.

The funding will enable the team to purchase innovative technology that will allow ENT specialists to remotely assess patients efficiently and rapidly. “This equipment and method of assessment should allow an increase in the number of patients screened by ENT specialists,” Dr Kong says.

Waiting for an ENT appointment can be quite distressing  for parents and carers, and some families have to make a 1,000km return journey for a brief face-to-face appointment with a specialist.

Delays in receiving care can have a serious impact on the child’s ear health, quality of life and their culture and identity.

“We often have a misconception about the problem with ear disease, we think it’s simply about hearing loss,” Dr Kong explains. “But it’s actually about the life course of an Australian person and how we can improve that.”

A Worimi man, and Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon, Dr Kong is passionate about reducing the disparity that exists between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and our non-Indigenous population. “This research will help the equity and equality of Aboriginal attainment and education,” Dr Kong says. 

Community health workers will complete training to detect, treat and manage ear disease. Evaluation of this method and equipment using evidence-based results will enable a potential roll-out to other regions across the country.

“In this country we have first world standards for ear disease, but third world responses to Indigenous hearing,” Dr Kong adds. “That’s the exciting thing about this research. If you put in the effort at an early age you can change that life trajectory and do a wonderful thing for the whole of Australia.”

* HMRI partners with the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.