Why India must ensure every newborn undergoes compulsory screening for deafnessDr. Shankar Medikeri
The birth of their child, for every parent, is the most meaningful moment of their life. It also marks the onset of several moments that leave them teary-eyed; like the first laugh, giggle, babble, crawl, and gesture. But more than any of these, it is the first time they hear their baby speak that leaves a mark in their memory for a lifetime. This said, speech, cognition, and learning abilities are highly dependent on the hearing ability of a child.
Hearing impairment or loss of hearing is one of the most prevalent congenital disabilities in India, with an estimated 8 in 1,000 infants born with moderate to profound hearing impairment. It is also recorded that over 27,000 children are born deaf every year in India.
Hearing is often treated as a ‘low-profile’ disability as it cannot be seen or easily identified, thus resulting in low awareness. Commonly called an ‘invisible’ condition, the most credible approach to ensure that children suffering from hearing loss can be identified and treated at an early stage is to get every newborn screened for possible symptoms at birth itself. Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) is a medical test for early detection of congenital hearing loss.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 60 per cent of hearing loss in children under 15 years of age is preventable. The UNHS test is instrumental in detecting hearing impairment in newborn babies and ensuring early intervention to manage the condition in the best possible way. This UNHS test has been implemented in most developed countries like the US, the UK, Singapore, Australia and many more. India lacks such a system for screening of newborns and to improve this, we need a system where all children are tested at birth in hospitals. An organised and structured universal system will prevent delay in intervention.
One of the main causes for the unsuccessful uptake of this test is the lack of communication on the topic, low awareness levels, and lack of understanding about the importance of early diagnosis and intervention. Delay in the identification and treatment of congenital auditory impairment can profoundly affect quality of life in terms of language acquisition, social interaction, emotional development, education, and employment prospects. There is an urgent need to sensitise expectant parents and families, family doctors, pediatricians and gynecologists to highly recommend a neonatal hearing screening for every newborn.
The prime motive of the screening programme is to provide valuable treatment at the earliest, thus reducing the trauma associated with hearing impairment. One of the recent medical technology innovations in this space is that of a cochlear implant that can now restore one’s hearing ability and totally transform the life of the hearing-impaired person. The world’s best cochlear implant technology is now available in India. Depending on one’s hearing case and condition, we can avail solutions that best fit our needs and lifestyle.
We at SocialStory are running a month-long campaign on deafness, with an objective to push the government to bring in policy for compulsory screening for deafness at childbirth in India. Please sign this petition and help spread the word.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)