Cochlear implants need to be followed by speech therapy to be effective, say experts

Hrithik and his sister, Nisha, were born deaf. Their father sold his land to raise the Rs 5.5 lakh needed to get cochlear implants for them. The funds from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and other donations were not enough to cover the cost.

Their surgery was done at a government hospital, but the family could not afford to make the follow-up visits from Gurugram to a Delhi government hospital for the speech therapy that is essential post-surgery.

No follow through

This speech therapy is critical after cochlear implant surgery for children to recognize sounds they hear and to start talking. Hrithik and Nisha could not afford the costs of therapy at a private clinic either. As a result, three years after the implantation, Hrithik and Nisha still cannot speak.

There are many such reports about poor children who have got cochlear implants. The families don’t have the means to afford regular speech therapy or to maintain implants. Only the poorest families with earnings less than Rs 20,000 a month qualify for the government programme for free implants.

This points to the lack of follow up by surgeons and hospitals whether poor children who have been given implants have truly benefitted.

In most cases, families are given no counselling about the need for the intense speech therapy and training that is needed for the child to start hearing and speaking. Counselling will help hospitals determine whether the family has the money to replace the lead wires when they get damaged easily. Or whether the family can afford to replace the external processor, battery charger, or the four rechargeable batteries if they stop working.

Poor families worst hit

In the absence of this information, hundreds of children have gone back to being deaf. This is because the implants have stopped working when the processor or lead wire get damaged.

Cochlear implant surgeries are beyond the means of most people. However, many people opted for them once governments came forward to pay for them.

Experts say that with intensive speech therapy, cochlear implants can make a huge difference. However, without the therapy and the financial means for maintenance, the entire surgery becomes utterly pointless.

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