Hear them

Sakal Times
Monday, 1 April 2019

Bharati Vidyapeeth Medical College, Pune, has organised the campaign Sound of Silence to spread awareness of hearing impairment

For World Health Day, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as its topmost priority which means that all people can avail the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them.

 Inspired by this theme, Bharati Vidyapeeth Medical College, Pune, has organised the campaign Sound of Silence. As part of this campaign, students will be holding a charity drive to collect funds to assist WHO’s UHC mission. The funds will be donated to a hospital that can make services free for people. The funds will also be directed to orphanages.  

To raise awareness, the student body has also organised flash mobs at Seasons Mall, Pacific Mall and Bharatiya Vidyapeeth campuses in Kothrud and Katraj. #SOS (Sound of Silence), which is the social media wing of this campaign, was launched on April 1. 

Sound of Silence is an initiative to help those suffering from hearing impairment. Ability to hear is one of the five primary senses which helps us to communicate properly with fellow human beings. Hearing impairment cannot be seen, and hence its effects are not visible to others, so the hearing-impaired suffers in silence. Unlike visual impairment, hearing impairment often provokes ridicule rather than sympathy. S/he is often depressed and needs psychological counseling.

Hellen Keller once said, “Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people. The sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man. The consequences for a child born with hearing loss are quite severe. It is important to know that a child with hearing loss cannot develop speech and language abilities. This puts the child at a disadvantage in school, higher education, and limits future professional opportunities.”

One in every 1000 children is born with severe to profound hearing loss and around 4-5 per 1000 cannot hear properly. With over 100,000 babies who are born with hearing deficiency every year, deaf mutism is definitely a big challenge. Congenital Hearing loss is a grossly neglected condition in India. Because there are no visual indicators, most hearing-impaired children who are not screened at birth are not identified until between 2 and 3 years of age, which is well beyond the critical period for healthy speech and language development. In India, in the absence of any universal newborn screening programme and ignorance of parents and family, the majority of children are diagnosed late and thus the optimum benefits of treatment may not be possible. 

A probable strategy to ensure that children with hearing loss are identified and treated early is to ensure that every baby is screened for possible hearing loss at birth in hospital. For this there are quite a few tests in terms of OAE, BERA and a few other behavioural tests. 

With OAE and BERA, hearing status of even a three-day-old child can be known. Early detection and consequent treatment lead to better speech development in children, enhanced scholastic achievements in school, and limitless professional opportunities. This strategy has been implemented in countries such as USA, Singapore, Australia, UK etc. India does not have such a programme in place. There is clearly a need for a universal newborn hearing screening programme. 

Every parent must screen their newborn babies for hearing. Paediatricians and the family physician community in India must give hearing screening the same level of importance as vaccinations. Once diagnosed with hearing loss it is extremely essential to provide them treatment at the earliest. They need to undergo a battery of tests. These tests include evaluation by paediatrician to rule out any other syndromic disease. Radilology (CT Scan / MRI) to know the conditon of middle and inner ear. These kids are supposed to use a hearing aid for three months and the hearing test is repeated after that to look for any improvment. Some children who have certain amount of hearing impairment may just need a hearing aid, and others who don’t benefit with hearing aids can go for cochlear implant.

Cochlear implants can help people with moderate to profound hearing loss. It is a device whereby an electrode is inserted in the inner ear of the patient and this helps to restore hearing. Currently, the central government and a few state governments offer financial assistance to children who need a cochlear implant, however, the demand is much higher than the supply as the procedure is expensive. DRDO is working on an indigenous cochlear implant which is likely to make it more affordable.

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