A rural nurse performing otoscopy in an Indigenous child. Photograph captured by Wayne Quilliam (2011) in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in rural and remote Australia have the highest rates of ear disease in the world. Childhood ear disease can cause hearing loss, speech problems, poor school performance and unemployment. Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists are difficult to access in rural and remote areas. The Covid-19 pandemic has restricted ENT access in these communities, compromising desperately needed care. In rural and remote areas, most ear exams are performed by local community health workers. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionise this condition, as computers can be trained to classify eardrum images. Our aim is to create an AI-based smartphone-app using tens-of-thousands of Indigenous eardrum images collected over a decade. The app has the potential to allow health workers with limited experience to instantly recognise ear disease with an accuracy similar to an ENT specialist. This may permit faster triage and early treatment to avoid the lifelong cycle of complications. Our unique partnership of Indigenous groups, universities, tech companies and government will bring world-leading Aussie ingenuity to the Outback.