DUBAI // Thousands of children are suffering with hearing problems because of a lack of early detection and affordable treatment.
About 6,000 children in the UAE aged under 4 have hearing loss and up to 900 are born with hearing problems each year, the World Health Organisation says.
High costs of therapy, special education, surgery and equipment such as hearing aids hinders their development.
“It is difficult to find the diagnostic and intervention services your child needs,” said Sarah Kelly, founder of hearing support group Chatterbox.
“When you find them they are expensive and generally not covered by insurance. Lack of awareness often results in misdiagnosis, delayed intervention and loss of precious developmental time for children with hearing loss.”
Doctors discovered Ms Kelly’s son Thomas had sensorineural hearing loss – damage to the inner ear or nerve pathways between it and the brain – when he was born in the US.
After a few months with hearing aids and therapy, Thomas had cochlear implants fitted.
And after more years of therapy and support Thomas, 7, has overcome the delay in his language skills and is enrolled in Grade 1 in Abu Dhabi.
“He is a curious, outgoing, creative child who is now able to develop to his full potential,” said Ms Kelly.
But at Dh150,000 for each ear, implant surgery is beyond the means of many parents.
Post-surgery therapy, instruments and monitoring add to this cost.
“Some centres offer packages, which include follow-up therapy or services,” Ms Kelly said. “Hearing aids can cost Dh10,000 or more for each ear and therapy Dh200-Dh500 for each session.
“Sessions are usually required once or twice weekly for several years following implant surgery. There is also the cost of monitoring a child’s hearing, adjusting hearing aids or implants to spot any problems or supply spare parts.”
Emirati Adil Al Alawi had no idea his first child was suffering from debilitating hearing problems when he was born.
“When my first child was born, we had no clue about the problem hence diagnosis and treatment got delayed,” said Mr Al Alawi, 40, from Abu Dhabi.
“His surgery was done at the age of 4. However, at the birth of my second and third children we were extra careful and both diagnosis and treatment started at an early stage.”
Despite the problems his family faced, Mr Alawi believes treatment and diagnosis is improving.
“Over the years, things have improved a lot but certainly so much more has to be done, especially when it comes to speech therapy,” he said. “Surgery is just one part of the treatment. Awareness and early diagnosis is very crucial for the child to get the treatment on time.
“I am glad I was able to get the right treatment at the right time for my children.”
Mr Al Alawi advised parents to take their children for comprehensive check-ups to detect any hearing problems as early as possible.
Jasmin Beck, chief executive of HearLIFE Clinic in Dubai’s Healthcare City, said about 4 per cent of the population suffered from some form of hearing loss.
“This number is uqual to 410,525 individuals,” said Ms Beck, adding the two most common hearing problems are congenital hearing loss – which requires screening of newborns – and acquired hearing loss as a result of an illness or injury.