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Hearing loss screening to be made mandatory for newborns.

Summary: Survey reveals high prevalence of hearing impairment and lack of awareness

Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Senior Reporter

Dubai: The Ministry of Health is planning to make screening to detect and assess the magnitude of hearing loss for newborns mandatory in the country.

Dr Hussain Abdul Rahman Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary for health centres and clinics at the Ministry of Health told Gulf News: "At present this proposal is being deliberated by the Cabinet and will become a law very soon. As of now, this screening is mandatory at all government hospitals."

He was talking after the release of a new hearing impairment survey conducted in the UAE. Health professionals in the UAE have acknowledged that at least one in 25 babies born in the country suffer from some degree of hearing impairment. With this level of hearing impairment, a cochlear implant company sponsored a pilot study to ascertain the prevalence of the problem.

According to this survey conducted in a sample population of 523 respondents from all nationalities in the age group of 18-40 years, nearly four per cent indicated a family history of hearing problems. Nearly four per cent had sons and daughters with hearing problems that was diagnosed after the age of two and nearly 35 per cent respondents indicated a family history of hearing issues where the impairment was diagnosed at the age of one. Only 56 per cent of respondents believe that hearing impairment is a severe health issue.

Presenting the results David Raetz, CEO of Med-El Middle East pointed out that the prime reason for the ignorance was a lack of awareness and education on the topic. Emphasising on the need of early intervention, Dr Jamal Kassouma, Consultant ENT surgeon at Dubai Hospital said: "If a child is diagnosed with hearing impairment before the onset of speech and is fitted with hearing aids, then he does not require speech therapy. But if parents remain ignorant of the problem which is quite common until later stages then the child requires complete rehabilitation and speech therapy. At the moment the approximate number of people affected by mild, moderate to profound hearing loss in the UAE remains between three to five per cent which is higher than the world average of one per cent suffering from hearing loss globally."

Dr Kassouma added that some of the main ways to prevent hearing loss was making pre-marital genetic screening mandatory among Emiratis. "UAE nationals must avoid cosanguinous marriages because even if they do not manifest a family genetic trait of let's say hearing loss, both the husband and wife will be carriers of the recessive gene which can reflect in their progeny. Once hearing loss is detected early the ENT physician needs to determine the loss is mild, moderate or profound. In all cases first a hearing aid needs to be fitted. In case of total loss the patient needs to go for a cochlear implant."

Findings of the survey

* Only 56 per cent of respondents believe that hearing impairment is a severe health issue

* Less than a quarter of respondents - 23 per cent completely agree to hearing loss being one of the top 5 severe health issues in the UAE

* An astounding 81 per cent of the survey sample acknowledged having little to no awareness regarding the prevalence of hearing impairment

* 20 per cent of respondents are not at all aware that hearing screening could be performed for newborn babies

* 62 per cent of which amounts to more than two third of the total respondent pool stated that their babies were not screened for hearing

* A total of 82 per cent said they had not discussed hearing screening for their babies with their healthcare professionals prior to their delivery

* A large portion of those surveyed - 62 per cent stated they have little to no familiarity with hearing screening procedures

* Lack of awareness resulted in only 18 per cent of respondents saying they would definitely perform hearing screenings for their babies, and 58 per cent indicated they would consider it. Of the above, only 29 per cent consider hearing screening to be essential practice, 39 per cent would give it a high priority, 27 per cent would give it a medium priority, 4 per cent would give it a low priority, and only 1 per cent would not give it any priority.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Jan 11, 2016
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