During a public lecture on hearing impairments on Wednesday evening, September 12 at Peebles Hospital, Audiometric Technician attached to the BVIHSA, Ms. Lydia Hodge revealed that in 2017, there was a significant increase in the cases of hearing abnormalities detected in infants.
“When we looked at the 2017 statistics, we found that 42 percent of the children—we tested 263 children between 0 and four years old—and in terms of that number, 42 percent showed up with abnormal middle ear function. Of that number, we had 12 percent that had hearing loss,” she disclosed.
While they are making strides in detecting these issues, she noted they have capacity issues as it relates to treatment and rehabilitation, and are forced to rely on an international network of medical facilities.
“Unfortunately, in terms of the rehabilitative measures, we do not have that area as yet...we’re praying that that service can be developed. We rely very heavily on external referrals. We have been referring our children from anywhere between Miami to Guyana. We were able to set up audiological networking to send the children to our network,” Ms. Hodge stated.
Addressing the small gathering in the hospital’s lobby, Hodge further stressed, “Essentially, we have a great need for the number we have in the Territory; the service that needs to be given is almost like where we’re failing. We need a lot more support, not only from the medical aspect, but also from education.”
“Infants and young children with hearing loss can benefit from the use of hearing devices such as hearing aids, cochlea transplants and other assistive devices. They may also benefit from speech therapy and rehabilitation, and other related services,” Ms. Hodge highlighted.
However, she said that the lack of availability of these services for fitting and maintaining these devices, and the lack of batteries are also barriers in many low income families, further revealing that “this is one of the biggest factors for us here in the BVI.”
Causes and Prevention
In delivering her presentation to the small group present, the Audiometric Technician informed that around 466 million people worldwide have hearing loss and 34 million of these are children. She said that based on studies, it is estimated that by 2050, over 900 million people will have hearing loss.
These hearing impairments, she explained, are either acquired or congenital—acquired soon after birth. She further related that they result from genetic causes, complications at birth, infectious diseases, chronic ear infections and use of particular drugs and exposure to excessive noise.
Sixty percent of childhood hearing loss is due to preventable causes, she told her small audience, adding that among children, ‘chronic otitis media’ is the most common cause of hearing loss. This, she shared, affects their ability to communicate, saying, “spoken language development is often delayed in children with unaddressed hearing loss.”
She added that it can “have a significantly adverse effects on the academic performance of children. They often have increased rates of grade failure and greater need for education assistance. Access to suitable accommodations is important for optimal learning experiences.”
Despite these challenges and difficulties associated with the impairments, Ms. Hodge declared that “half of these cases can be prevented by simple public health strategies.”
“Immunising children against childhood diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, rubella. Also, immunising adolescent girls and women of reproductive age before pregnancy,” she emphasised.
She also called for the the strengthening of maternal and child health programmes, including the promotion of safe child birth, as well as appropriate medical or surgical interventions for those with the impairments.
“Early assessments prompt diagnosis and appropriate management. Early detection and intervention are crucial to minimise the impact of hearing loss on a child’s development and educational achievements,” the medical professional pressed.