Treating hearing impairment in infants
As part of the 100 Million Healthy Lives initiative, the Ministry of Health announced that three- to seven-day-old babies will be tested for hearing impairment at 1,300 health units nationwide.
Ministry of Health Spokesperson Khaled Megahed says 3,500 nurses have received training and will conduct an initial survey using audiometric devices which have already been distributed to the health units involved. The examinations should take no more than a few minutes.
“Any infant suspected of having hearing problems will be re-examined after two weeks at the health unit where the initial examination took place,” says Ahmed Mustafa, executive director of the programme to diagnose and treat newborns with hearing difficulties. Should the re-examination confirm the initial diagnosis the child will be transferred to a specialised hospital for treatment.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 7.5 million Egyptians suffer hearing impairment, of which 2.6 million are children. The process can, however, be reversed in some children if they are treated before the age of five. According to WHO, hearing loss is one of the commonest birth defects, and the third leading chronic disability following arthritis and hypertension.
The campaign, which also aims to increase parents’ awareness of the importance of early detection of hearing difficulties, will provide cochlear implants (CI) for infants who need them.
CI’s are surgically implanted neuroprosthetic devices that provide a sense of sound to people with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss.
“Among the reasons many newborns don’t receive CIs within the first five years is the cost of the surgery, per-operative treatment and follow-up requirements,” says Maysa Shawki, ear, nose and throat specialist at Al-Qasr Al-Aini hospital and a former deputy to the minister of health.
A year’s worth of treatment, including surgery, preoperative medical examinations and hospital charges, costs between LE120,000 and LE140,000, says Shawki. Further rehabilitation expenses can reach LE12,000 for six months.
“While 60 per cent of hearing impairment is temporary and can be easily treated with medicines and washing the ears to remove accumulated wax, a significant proportion of the remaining 40 per cent could regain some hearing through minor surgery in the eardrum.”
Megahed said the campaign is being partly funded by the World Bank which has provided $133 million for screenings.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom recognised President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s sponsorship of the 100 Million Healthy Lives initiative during a visit to Egypt. WHO’s verification report of the initiative’s programmes hailed the survey of more than 60 million citizens as one of the world’s most ambitious and a model for countries seeking to implement similar campaigns.