Marcus Fatunmole (Abuja)
Relief is on the way for persons with hearing loss and related challenges in Nigeria as an international non-governmental organization, Starkey Hearing Foundation, has pledged to provide them screening and treatment.
Founder of the organization, Mr Bill Austin, made the promise in Abuja on Wednesday at the launch of National Policy and Five-Year Strategic Plan (2019-2023) for Ear and Hearing Care in Nigeria.
Austin said his decision to support the country was borne out of his desire that the best thing any human could do is to be kind to others.
“I cannot do it alone. With government support, we can make a difference in Nigeria. We really can. I will say the key to making this support starts with absolute grassroots. Some genius in this country decided that you need a National Youth (Service) Corps. It’s the best thing you could have ever done. The young people can be taught to care, sending messages to their neighbours, people, they can work together across different tribes, helping people…
“These people can screen in every school in Nigeria. I want to have a screening in the first place by September. I want to screen every school child in one state from the first September (2019) The next year, we want to get to other states to build their capacity.
“By 2023, I expect that we will screen 100 percent, not only of the school children in Nigeria, not only in the first grade, but in the sixth grade.”
He said the children would take messages to their parents, requesting anyone with hearing challenges to meet his officials at designated centres across communities.
He explained further that if the officials identify any hearing challenge, with the support of government, its organization would ensure treatment for the affected persons.
In his address, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said with the launch of the document, Nigeria had joined the few countries that have specific plans in place to address the rising epidemic of hearing loss and deafness using the public health approach.
“Ear diseases and hearing loss is prevalent globally, with low and middle-income countries accounting for about 80% of hearing loss disease burden according to the WHO. In addition, the global prevalence of disabling hearing loss is estimated to have increased from 360 million to 466 million. Similarly, the prevalence in Nigeria increased from 7.3 million to 8.5 million within a decade.
“It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people will have disabling hearing loss and currently, 1.1 billionyoung people aged between 12–35 years are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise in recreational settings; 60% of cases can be prevented- otitis media, exposure to excessive noise, exposure to ototoxic substances, and vaccine-preventable infectious diseases-like meningitis, measles, mumps and rubella. The physical, social and economic impact of hearing loss on individuals, families and nations cannot be overemphasized,” he stated.
He added the policy would serve as a blueprint to guide the activities geared towards preventing ear diseases and hearing loss, early detection and intervention, rehabilitation and providing support services to people living with hearing loss.
He also noted that the plan proposed comprehensive, evidence-based interventions to prevent, identify and treat ear diseases and hearing loss, and to rehabilitate and support persons with hearing loss through the nation’s health system.