EARLY INTERVENTION

Newborn ear screening will curb hearing loss burden, says medic

Doctor says chronic ear infections can lead to deafness

In Summary

• Hearing loss may then lead to other difficulties, including delayed learning and behavioural problems.

• More than 600,000 Kenyans cannot hear properly and many more might lose their sense of hearing due to extremely noise-polluted environments. 

Doctor Richard Mwangi performs an ear check-up on on patient at his IncusEar Hearing and ENT Centre located along Ngong Road.
RISING CASES: Doctor Richard Mwangi performs an ear check-up on on patient at his IncusEar Hearing and ENT Centre located along Ngong Road.
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

More than half of all hearing loss cases can be prevented with early intervention.

Doctor Richard Mwangi says that unlike other disabilities, you cannot point out an individual among the crowd and say they have a hearing impairment as it is not visible.

Chronic ear infections are a common cause of deafness in children, especially in developing countries.  Hearing loss may lead to other difficulties, including delayed learning and behavioural problems.

“When a child has congenital issues like congenital hearing impairment, there is no way we could avoid that, but it could have been rehabilitated,” the medic told the Star in his office on Monday.

He said Kenyan parents look for help when a child is about four years old. 

“When a child is born, they have to be assessed. If the child fails the newborn hearing screening, it is repeated after three months and if the child fails again, it is repeated at six months. Should the child fail at six months, the diagnostic test is done and the process of rehab starts.”

Infection may also spread with further complications. One per cent of children in Kenya may suffer from these ear infections. 

More than 600,000 Kenyans cannot hear properly and many more might lose their sense of hearing due to extremely noise-polluted environments in their workplace and in public transport vehicles that play loud music in spite of prohibitive laws. Hence, the People with Disability Act, 2003, requires all public broadcasting stations to incorporate sign language in their television programmes, including news, talk shows, documentaries and educational programmes. 

“When a parent is told that their child has a problem, the denial phase starts. Some opt for herbal medicine and by then the child continues to grow. By the time you are thinking of help it is too late,” Mwangi noted. 

“Seek help first. We should encourage newborn screening so that by the time the child is turning one year, we are able to tell whether the child can hear or not."

Impairment in hearing has risen in the past two decades, with data showing that one out of every 10 people suffers from the problem. Twenty years ago, hearing problems were estimated to affect between five and eight people out of every 100 Kenyans, or less than one in every 10. 

The World Health Organization estimates that unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of $750 billion (Sh75 trillion). This includes health sector costs (excluding the cost of hearing devices), costs of educational support, loss of productivity and societal costs.

The medic, however, notes that some causes such as old age and traumatic experiences are unfortunate causes that can’t be prevented. 

To ensure hearing loss is noticed as early as possible, all people should check their hearing from time to time, especially those who are at a higher risk. They include people who often listen to loud music, work in noisy places and use medicines that are harmful to hearing, or who are above 60 years old.

And to facilitate hearing checks, the WHO last year developed a mobile and web-based software application for screening. 

Edited by R.Wamochie