The WA Earbus was the brainchild of ENT Professor Harvey Coates who developed the first Australian Earbus in 2006 with financial support from Variety WA. Professor Coates had seen the Earbus idea in NZ and thought it could reach Aboriginal children in remote and regional areas of Wa.
Earbus mobile ear health clinics offer full primary health care to Aboriginal children in schools, daycares, kindergartens and playgroups. As well as providing comprehensive ear screening, the Earbus employs GPs, audiologists and ENTs so referral is quick and treatment is seamless.
In the Goldfields about 600km from Perth the Earbus visits remote communities of Menzies, Leonora and Laverton as well as Kalgoorlie and surrounding towns. Earbus Foundation works in close partnership with Bega Garnbirringu AMS using Aboriginal health workers, nurses and dispensary staff to complete the clinical team. Perth-based doctors fly in to assist with treatment in both Kalgoorlie and local sites. The primary health care focus means GPs have treated Aboriginal children for many conditions, including conjunctivitis, acrodysostosis, viral URTI, skin lesions, scabies, UTI, head lice, visual loss/ astigmatism and developmental delays.
Similar Earbus services run from the mining town of Port Hedland in WA’s remote north-west. The Pilbara Earbus visits urban communities and playgroups in Hedland as well as remote communities of Strelley, Warralong and Yandeyarra in partnership with Wirrkaka Maya Aboriginal Health Service.
“The idea of the Earbus Program is to take GPs to Aboriginal people instead of expecting them to negotiate their way through white fella mainstream services” said Earbus Foundation CEO Paul Higginbotham. “This service model was designed by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people and it works to keep children in the treatment pathway from first contact to wellness.”
By working in close partnership with schools, daycares and kindergartens the Earbus program has developed a tight model of continuous care. GPs write short course antibiotics which are delivered by the Earbus team then supervised by schools so every child takes the full course when prescribed. Children needing ear washes are tracked and managed in partnership so on the next Earbus visit (usually monthly) children are ready for further treatment.
On average Aboriginal children suffer from middle ear disease for 32 months of the first five years of life, compared to three months for non-Indigenous children. While vaccination programs have been tried and prevention/awareness programs are in place in some remote communities 100% of Aboriginal children are affected.