Experts push for universal screening for hearing disabilities in India
Don’t let hearing loss limit you. That was the theme of World Hearing Day in 2020. A day set aside by the World Health Organisation to raise awareness about how to prevent deafness and hearing loss as well as promote ear and hearing care across the world. In India, an estimated 27,000 children are born deaf every year and experts say there is an urgent need to make universal screening for hearing disabilities mandatory and finally there seems to be a push in this regard. That is our focus on #StoryOfThe Week.
Hearing loss is an invisible condition and there is little awareness about this condition. The only way to ensure children with hearing loss are identified and treated as soon as possible is by screening them for possible signs of deafness at birth itself. That test is the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS). This is a medical test for early detection of congenital hearing loss.
The goal of early hearing detection and intervention is to maximise linguistic competence and literacy development for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Without appropriate opportunities to learn language, these children will fall behind their hearing peers in communication, cognition, reading, and social-emotional development. Such delays may result in lower educational and employment levels in adulthood.
Early screening mandated in many parts of the West
“Universal New Born Hearing Screening has resulted in significantly lowering the average age of identification in the developed countries”, points out Vahishtai J Daboo. Daboo is a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist and certified Auditory Verbal Therapist. She is also the co-founder and trustee of VConnect Foundation, a Mumbai-based support group for parents of children with a hearing impairment.
Screening is a necessary first step, which then needs to be followed up with early intervention which is fitting of the most appropriate amplification device (hearing aid, cochlear implant – depending on each child’s degree and type of hearing loss) and extensive ‘Auditory Verbal Therapy’ by qualified Auditory Verbal Therapists who work with families to enable their child to learn to listen, speak and become independent contributing members of mainstream society. – Vahishtai J Daboo, Listening & Spoken Language Specialist/Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist
Hearing loss screening – Guidelines & Recommendations
The Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (JCIH) Position Statement 2007, endorses early detection of and intervention for infants with hearing loss. It recommends that to maximise the outcome for infants who are deaf or hard of hearing, hearing of all infants should be screened at no later than one month of age. Those who do not pass screening should have a comprehensive audiological evaluation at no later than three months of age. Infants with confirmed hearing loss should receive appropriate intervention at no later than six months of age from health care and education professionals with expertise in hearing loss and deafness in infants and young children.
Regardless of previous hearing-screening outcomes, all infants with or without risk factors should receive ongoing surveillance of communicative development beginning at two months of age during well-child visits in the medical home.
“India most certainly needs to have the UNBHS programme in place just like in the developed countries”, says Daboo. “It is imperative to make it mandatory for every single new born baby in our country. Contrary to general belief, 95% of deaf children have some residual hearing. If identified young, they can be taught to ‘Listen and Speak’. 0 to 2 years is the most critical period for neural plasticity, to enable the brain to make maximum neurological connections for the development of speech and language”.
Meetings are being held between medical experts and the government to discuss ways to make UNBHS mandatory in India. “There are many positive steps being taken in this regard and I am hopeful that this will come through soon in India”.
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