According to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) there is a global burden of 538 million people with hearing impairment of whom 80% live in developing nations. Estimates indicate that about 20% of the Pacific Island Country population have mild hearing impairment.
The capacity to deliver services to address hearing impairment in the Pacific is limited and an interim solution to address this capacity gap meant that Pacific Island Countries & Territories (PICTs) rely heavily on visiting ear, nose, and throat (ENT) and audiology teams and medical referral systems. This however is slowly improving as development partners continue to work with PICTs to address these gaps.
The Pacific Community (SPC) responded to requests made by PICTs and in 2017 convened a Pacific ENT Technical Advisory Group (PENT-TAG) meeting to explore opportunities for strengthening ENT services in the region. This brought together ENT & audiology specialists, researchers, and academics from around the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand. This also resonated with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its target of improving access to health care services.
Dr Chunghyeon Oh who is an ENT Specialist based in Fiji said that PENTAG has supported ENT and audiology networking between PICTs. “PENTAG encourages setting the goal and roadmap for quality ENT & audiology access in each PICTs. Through online & offline meeting, we feel solidarity amongst the ENT & audiology workers in each country”.
Sureni Perera, Chief Executive Officer for the Frank Hilton Organization Fiji said, “Being a part of the PENTAG has provided us an opportunity to meet and network with professionals who share our vision of ensuring access to quality, standardized ear and hearing health for children and persons with disabilities”.
As a ripple effect of bringing the various ENT and audiology stakeholders to the PENTAG meeting, these strong collaborative partnerships formed, and this has seen an increasing support for these specialized health services for the Pacific.
Dr Berlin Kafoa, Team Leader Clinical Services Program at SPC’s Public Health Division (PHD) said “This became an opportunity for Pacific Island ENT specialists and nurses to expand their professional networks with new links established with their Australian and New Zealand counterparts. It also allowed further capacity development with Pacific Island ENT surgeons receiving full funded specialised training and nurses’ access to continuing professional development”.
In addition to this, PICTs through PENTAG have received donations of specialised equipment such as from the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS) including Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeons from Auckland New Zealand.
Through this collaborative approach that involves other partners and with the established network PENTAG, PICTs are now able to expand their funding sources for capacity building in the areas of ENT and audiology.
SPC through its coordination role and with funding support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has ensured that PICTs benefit from the support of Australian and New Zealand ENT and audiology specialists and academics and at the same time continue to convene PENTAG every 2 years.
3rd March is World Hearing Day and this year’s theme is Hearing Care for All! Screen, Rehabilitate, Communicate.