A Canadian group is raising awareness on the large number of Filipinos afflicted with permanent disabling hearing loss. If this is not addressed, especially among children, it will have a big impact on their well-being.
Citing statistics from the World Health Organization, earAccess Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of high-quality and affordable hearing aids, noted that 8.8 percent of Filipinos have permanent disabling hearing loss, much higher than the global average of 5 percent. This means that over 9.2 Filipinos are affected by disabling hearing loss. For cases of temporary and permanent hearing loss, the University of Santo Tomas found that as many as 28 percent of Filipinos are affected at one time or another, or one in four people with some kind of hearing loss.
For people with permanent hearing loss, 94 percent of these cases can be helped with hearing aids. But in many countries like the Philippines, fewer than one in 40 people who need a hearing aid, whether for communication or general safety, have access to one.
A child with unaddressed hearing loss is likely to have delayed language development, academic underachievement, increased poverty, higher risks of injuries and social isolation.
“Deafness can cut people off from their families, their communities and their loved ones, and ultimately lead to isolation and depression,” said Esther Jamieson, project manager for earAccess, who spoke about “Hearing Loss and Innovation in Hearing Care” at the recent Philippine Hospital Association Convention at The Manila Hotel. “Most frightening is the case with children where if a child is deaf or hard of hearing and does not receive intervention before passing the critical language learning period in the first year of life or at least before the age of seven, they may never develop the ability to speak or communicate in general, even by sign language.”
In fact, there might be more people who are afflicted with the problem because deafness is an invisible disability. It is often misdiagnosed as developmental delays, attention disorders and speech disorders, or it is just assumed that the one who has a hearing problem is rude or disoriented when in reality he just cannot hear. While most people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids, a vast majority of them cannot afford one because of their exorbitant and outrageous high price. Recent studies at Johns Hopkins University have even shown that unaddressed hearing loss is correlated with early Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive decline. The findings suggest that the sooner hearing aids are used by people, particularly the elderly, the better the chances of slowing down the aging process. For the young, early access to hearing aids can help increase educational attainment and even earning potential.
“What we have noted in the countries we have a presence in is that there is a pattern of gaps: gaps in awareness, gaps in services and gaps in affordability,” Jamieson said. “This pattern of gaps is one that is consistent across most countries in the world when it comes to hearing care, including the Philippines.”
To address gaps in awareness and services, Jamieson said they came up with innovative screening and training. With their local distributor Fine Nutrition headed by Imelda Tesalona, earAccess had the opportunity to work with the Persons with Disability Affairs Division of Mandaluyong City to develop solutions for adoption in the country.
“We developed the first ever protocol and complete training to build up a screening team specialized in using play audiometry techniques to screen children under five,” she said.
So far, the team has been able to screen 3,000 day care and 5,000 kindergarten and elementary school children for hearing loss.
The team also trained clinical audiology students in the UST Department of Audiology on this protocol. It was used in Batangas in a partnered mission with UST to screen 6,000 children. “Regularly screening children in day care centers and schools will help make sure that any child with hearing loss is identified as early as possible and this is made possible through innovative and mobile screening strategies,” Jamieson said.
earAccess has also come up with a training module specifically for midwives, nurses and even teachers “to capacitate them with the skills and knowledge needed to identify the signs and confirm with equipment-independent tests to ensure that people, especially children, are identified as early as possible.”
Jamieson added that to address the gap in affordability and accessibility of hearing aids and services, this can be made available through settings outside of the clinics. “Our expertise is that we provide hearing aids and care in innovative contexts. We work with partners in non-clinical settings to provide services,” she explained. “Additionally, we provide high quality ACCESS hearing aids at an affordable price as part of our social mission to keep hearing aids affordable for the end patient.”
earAccess conducts regular free hearing screenings at Watsons where the ACCESS hearing aid products are being sold. The free screenings are held every day except Mondays and Wednesdays at Watsons Philippines in Robinsons Place Manila, SM Megamall and SM Fairview and every day except Mondays and Thursdays at SM Manila and SM North Edsa.
“The hearing screening is free and you are not obligated to buy the hearing aid if you are found to have a hearing problem,” Jamieson said. “What is good about our hearing aids is that they are priced at less than P20,000.”
“We partnered with earAccess because we believed in the product because in the long run, it is the patient who will benefit,” said Tesalona. “We are working to have this service and their products available in more Watsons branches.”
For more information about earAccess and its ACCESS®1 and ACCESS®2 hearing aids, like the earAccess Facebook page earAccess Philippines or visit https://earaccess.com.