Every year over 10 lakh babies are born in India with hearing impairment and in the absence of awareness and timely medical guidance, most grow up with hearing disability. They often face social and emotional challenges—feel isolated and report below average grades in school. Statistics show that one in 1,000 babies born from high-risk pregnancy and one in 10,000 of normal-delivery babies may suffer from hearing loss.
Dr Sheelu Srinivas, a consultant ENT surgeon in Bengaluru, says: “When an infant is born with hearing loss, the condition is called congenital disorder that ranges between mild and complete loss. It is categorised in three basic forms—mild, when the baby can’t hear soft speech; moderate, inability to hear in the presence of background noise; severe, when one can’t hear loud sounds and profound, difficulty in hearing even with amplification.”
If the hearing loss occurs after the baby is born, it is then acquired disorder. It is further categorised as pre-lingual if hearing loss happens before a child begins talking. And if it happens after the child has started talking, it is called post-lingual. Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer or middle ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by problems in the inner ear or in the hearing nerve, or even both.
Recognising the need for awareness on neonatal screening in India, Himalaya Baby Care has been organising hearing screening for underprivileged children in rural Karnataka in association with doctors and Bengaluru-based NGO, Shabd. This is an initiative to connect with the anganwadi workers to motivate participation.
According to Dr NV Chakravarthi, General Manager, Himalaya Baby Care, the Neonatal screening programme was rolled out in July 2016. Free hearing screening for underprivileged infants around Makali region of rural Bengaluru was held. The second camp was held at Adakamaranahalli village in September. He adds, “We screened 200 babies in two health camps and identified four children with preliminary and advanced hearing problems.” In India, screening is not mandatory and many people are not even aware of the medical condition. “As a result, people miss treatment and support during the crucial period of early detection. The All India Institute of Speech and Hearing recommends early help to infant, especially when a hearing problem is suspected, irrespective of how young the baby is,” adds Dr Srinivas.
Presently, in India there is no newborn screening in government hospitals but a lot of private hospitals have made hearing screening mandatory for new-born babies. Moreover, these tests always come at an extra financial cost so only parents who can afford it perform the tests. Dr Chakravarthi says, “Anganwadi workers help us mobilise people from the local community, bringing mothers and children to the camps. Private firms, government, hospitals and NGOs should come together to spread awareness.”