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Government funded health programs for NT's deaf children

Photo: Better help coming for NT's deaf children
Two-year-old Cherraya Houldsworth is the first indigenous toddler to receive a cochlear implant in the Northern Territory after being born deaf.

Darwin mother Rosalie Houldsworth remembers the moment her two-year-old daughter Cherraya could hear for the first time after receiving a cochlear implant.

Cherraya was the first indigenous toddler in the Northern Territory to receive the implant three months ago, after she was discovered to be deaf with hearing aids of no use.

"She was excited when she could first hear sound, she laughed and ran under the table and hid from us," Ms Houldsworth said.

"Cherraya responded to sound immediately and I cried from happiness."

"She loves playing with other kids, she is saying a few words, responding to her name, vocalising heaps more, before she was really quiet."
Cherraya was running around and happily screaming on Wednesday at the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children's new Darwin site where she will receive therapy and is expected to develop age-appropriate speech and attend a mainstream school.

One-in-six Australians are deaf, hard of hearing or have a chronic ear disorder, with this number expected to rise to one-in-four by 2050.

The RIBC's chief executive Chris Rehn said locating the organisation in a smaller town such as Darwin could only be done by convincing the federal and Territory governments to help with funding.

Before cochlear implant surgery was available in Darwin from 2014, people with deafness had to fly interstate to receive the devices which stimulate the auditory nerve.

"We then worked with Northern Territory health and various health ministers to get permission to start offering surgery, initially we paid for the cochlear implants, which is about a $25,000 piece of hardware in order to see those surgeries happen in Darwin," Mr Rehn told reporters.

There have now been 21 surgeries at Darwin hospital with annual funding currently for seven implants that help uninsured public patients, he said.

The Territory has a high rate of hearing loss, with Otitis media or "glue ear" caused by infections particularly prevalent in indigenous communities including children.

The government has provided funding to the Menzies School of Health Research's Hearing for Learning Initiative, a five-year $7.9m program in which health project officers help Aboriginal children with hearing problems, NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.

"Our 10-year early childhood development plan outlines a whole of government action to improve the health and wellbeing and in turn educational outcomes for children," she said.

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