Cochlea: Let the nation hear

Lawson Madzivanyika
The ability to relate, share ideas, participate in activities, and experience one’s surroundings depends greatly on the capacity to hear.
Hearing also informs humans of the dangers that surround them through sirens, smoke alarms, and warning shouts.
Therefore, hearing impairment reduces one’s ability to react to these situations thereby increasing the risk of falling in danger.

Hearing impairment also affects the way we communicate and participate in societal activities.
As such, most people with hearing impairment end up being stigmatised in society, which leads them to drop out of school, dodge social activities within the community as well as depression.

However, in as much as hearing impairment appears to be a hopeless condition, it can be medically reversed.
The main challenge, nonetheless, is that over the years, Zimbabwe lacked facilities to carry out surgeries on cochlea which restore the ability to hear. As a result, people used to track to foreign countries to seek medical attention albeit at a fortune.
Unfortunately, many cannot afford the expenses involved.

However there is good news for those who could not afford travelling out of the country for surgeries on cochlea as the country’s first ever national cochlea implant programme was launched recently. Three operations have so far been conducted at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and have been successful.

Cochlea implants help people who have moderate to profound hearing loss in one or both ears.
Leone Chirombo, a four-year-old girl from Harare who was born with the hearing impairment is one of the two patients who underwent the first cochlea surgery.

Her father, Mr James Chirombo, said the surgery went well and is happy that his daughter will now be able to relate properly with other children.

“Right now my daughter is playing and what’s left is for the doctors to remove the bandage and see how it all goes,” he said in a jovial mood. “According to my research I am very confident that it will work and I am convinced that the doctors did a very good job.”

Dr Clemence Chidziva, an ear, nose and throat specialist who conducted some of the surgeries, said the cochlea implant is an advanced form of surgery which corrects most forms of hearing disorders.

“Three successful operations were completed to two children aged two and four,” he said. “One child received bilateral cochlea implantation and the other received unilateral implant. We are aiming to spread this technology nationally so that we cater for everyone including those in rural areas.”

Medical experts say when someone is born with hearing problems, they cannot develop spoken language.
“They are not only disadvantaged in terms of education but with fewer employment opportunities and their whole life is a struggle,” Dr Chidziva said.

Two-year-old Jadon Shoko is another patient who underwent successful surgery.
“My son was born with hearing impairment and I cannot wait to communicate with him,” said Jadon’s elated father Mr Shoko.
“The surgery went well but I am still very anxious for the results,” he said.

Although hearing complications can be found in children, they are more prominent in older ages. According to statistics, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions experienced by older persons, with a 50 percent prevalence rate in those older than 75 years.

The cochlea surgery programme is being done in joint partnership between Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and an Austrian company, Med-El Medical Electronics.

Rural communities and the less privileged are all eligible for the cochlea implant programme. “The cochlea implant programme will spread its wings to cater for all people in Zimbabwe regardless of geographical locations in future,” said Dr Chidziva, adding that a programme to train doctors and nurses is already ongoing in rural areas.

Zimbabwe is now the second country in Africa which now does cochlea surgeries after South Africa.
Professor Benghalem, a specialist in cochlea surgery, who led the Zimbabwe team with their first cochlea implant surgeries, said he is happy with the quality of specialists in Zimbabwe and is confident the programme marks the beginning of a new era in Zimbabwe.

“There is an enthusiastic team to help spread cochlea implants in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“The implants will help restore hearing to those who are either born with hearing impairments or those who develop the disability at a later stage in life.”

Professor Benghalem said hearing impairment is not a fatality adding that early diagnosis from as early as nine months can be done to children.

“There is no need to wait for the child to grow older as the procedure can be done at a tender age. If we do early diagnosis we can save or transform the life of that child,” said the professor.

Unlike other medical implants such as kidney and heart, cochlea implants are comparatively cheaper as there are no other expenses after the procedure.

Having led the local team of doctors during the surgeries, Professor Benghalem was full of praises for Zimbabwean doctors.
Dr Chidziva said adults benefit immediately and continue to improve for about 3 months after the initial tuning sessions.
He said a lot of training in children is needed after implantation to help them use the new “hearing” he or she now experiences.

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