By Jasmine Opoku-Ware
“The Hear the World Foundation is a non-profit Swiss foundation founded in 2006 by Sonova Group which provides funding, hearing aid technology and on-site expertise, all with the mission to train local staff. The foundation supports aid projects across the world, benefiting people in need who are affected by hearing loss. Their main focus particularly lies with projects that centre on providing audiological care for children from low-income countries.
I was fortunate enough to spend a week assisting the Hear the World Foundation with their project in Kijabe, Kenya. During my time in Kijabe, I was providing training to audiological technicians and conducting hearing screens to children and adults. Many people across the country made use of the free hearing screenings that were offered during the week. I saw patients that travelled over seven hours just to gain access to the free service that was being provided, families making the difficult decision to time off work to finally receive care for themselves and their loved ones.
Many of the patients we saw had very complex hearing losses and ear health conditions which had been untreated for years. The foundation’s project in Kijabe runs in collaboration with the non-profit organisation Friends of Kijabe which is based in the AIC Kijabe Hospital. The organisation aims to provides access and affordability for the best medical and surgical care in East Africa and has an audiological project called the AIC Kijabe Hospital Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program. The aim of the program is to improve the quality of life for children with hearing loss in Kenya. The work is conducted through a comprehensive mission to raise awareness about hearing loss in the country, implementing parent support programs and decreasing the age of identification and intervention for children.
Research has found that universal newborn hearing screening (NHS), followed by early intervention methods, can reduce the risk of delayed speech and language development, subsequently aiding academic performance for children with disabling hearing losses (Molleur, 2000). The impact of newborn hearing screening on language development has only primarily been researched in developed countries; there is a clear lack of information and systems in place regarding the screening process that occurs in these developing countries. In many of these countries, suspicion from family members for hearing impairment is still the main approach of detection of childhood hearing loss; diagnosis may not occur until children are two years of age or older (McPherson, 2008).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that two-thirds of the population with a hearing impairment worldwide live in developing countries (Olusanya, 2011). Permanent childhood hearing loss accounts for 25% of the current global burden of hearing loss (Czechowicz et al, 2010), 90% of whom live in developing countries (Olusanya, 2007). This illustrates the dire situation developing countries are in and sparks debate about priorities for resource allocation, health-service planning and delivery, and the need for research and development into establishing proper screening programmes in these countries (Olusanya, 2007). The prevalence of hearing impairment varies between each developing country. In Africa, the prevalence rate is between 7-10% (Essel, 1999; Amedofu, et al 2003; Amedofu, et al 2006).
Foundations such as the Hear the World Foundation help in the fight to bridge the gap of access to audiological care between developed and developing countries. They are committed to improving the quality of life and promoting equal opportunities for people in need with hearing loss worldwide. The foundation concentrates on the following four focus areas:
– Establishment and expansion of newborn hearing screening programs
– Hearing tests for infants and school children
– Provision of hearing solutions and continuous follow-up care for children with hearing loss
– Training, education and development of local resources in audiology
– Training for clinic staff and teachers who deal with children with hearing loss
Prevention of Hearing Loss
– Measures to improve medical and audiological basic care
– Campaigns to provide information and raise awareness about hearing loss prevention
Parents and Families
– Production of informative/explanatory material like guides, newsletters and brochures
– Information events, such as training sessions, conferences and parent evenings
– Networking events that give parents opportunities to share their experiences
In most developing countries like Kenya, key barriers to healthcare are geographical and financial. Common hesitation to forming hearing screening programs in developing countries include the expense of the required equipment, the shortage of adequately trained staff and the acceptance of disability in these countries. Due to the fragile state of healthcare systems in developing countries, non-life-threatening conditions are not regarded as high importance.
It is my opinion that as hearing health professionals, promoting humanitarian audiology around the world should become a key objective within our field. If our true aim within our profession is to be a point of call for those living with untreated hearing loss, we should look more to foundations such as Hear the World to aid those who are most prominently and significantly affected by hearing loss.
I end this with a call for donations. If you have any donated hearing devices or audiological equipment which you no longer use, please contact me so we can put this equipment to good use for those that need it most greatly. “
What a rollercoaster week…
By BSHAA member Yovina Khiroya
“The week was certainly a rollercoaster. After landing in Nairobi the night before, the #HearKenya team set off at 6.30am for Kijabe – a journey which in theory should take an hour but actually took closer to three.
Kijabe is a mountainous village roughly 45km south of Nairobi. It is home to the AIC Kijabe Hospital where the #HearKenya project is taking place. In 2017, the World Health Organisation reported that Kenyans are more afflicted by hearing loss compared to the global average of five people with hearing difficulties in every 100. This has a huge impact on the education of children in Kenya. The number of deaf graduates in Kenya is incredibly low. Although Hear The World has been supporting the audiology department for the past two years, this was the first visit to Kijabe. The goal of this visit was to provide some face–to–face training for the two local audiologists, Elizabeth and Jonathan, as well as carrying out hearing screenings in the local population to raise hearing health awareness.
The #HearKenya team consisted of seven members including myself, Laura Meng, Ora Buerkli, Sylvester Feijoo, Barbara Muench, Jasmine Opoku-Ware and our photographer Chrisoph. As soon as we arrived in Kijabe we hit the ground running. The week we were in Kenya had been advertised on the AIC Kijabe Hospital Facebook page, which has over 21,000 followers.
Patients had travelled as far as Mombasa, a nine–hour drive, to be seen. When we entered the audiology department it was immediately clear that resources were extremely limited: from lack of soundproofing and calibrated equipment to visual reinforcement audiometry capabilities and REM equipment. Luckily, the Hear The World Foundation were prepared and donated a variety of equipment including tympanometers, OAE and ABR testing equipment. Sylvester and Barbara were on hand to train Jonathan and Elizabeth on the equipment.
Audiologists in Kenya are mostly self-taught.
During the week, Jasmine spent time with Jonathan training him on various diagnostic audiometry methods, while also seeing adult patients. Ora and I spent most of our time with Elizabeth training on paediatric testing and fitting techniques, and also screened paediatric patients. Due to the lack of a formal audiology training scheme in Kenya, Jonathan and Elizabeth are mostly self-taught. Thanks to Hear The World, however, Elizabeth has been on a training programme in Lübeck, Germany, on paediatric audiology. Hence, it was a fairly intensive week for training. However, Jonathan and Elizabeth have a keen hunger to learn more and are incredibly receptive to constructive feedback.
In addition to all the training, between two clinic rooms over 200 patients were seen within the five days we were at AIC Kijabe Hospital. The week we spent in Kenya was challenging but incredibly rewarding. Although the week may be over, Hear The World is dedicated to long-term support for all of its projects. The audiology clinic at AIC Kijabe Hospital will no doubt change the face of current audiology practice and become the gold standard clinic within Kenya with the support of Hear The World.”
You can find out more about the Hear The World Foundation at www.hear-the-world.com