Hearing screening programme aims to detect hearing impairments in newborns to facilitate timeous intervention and treatment
Netcare has launched a hearing screening programme for all newborn babies at its hospital maternity units countrywide.
The national programme is the first initiative of its kind in South Africa. The programme aims to identify hearing loss in infants as early as possible, so that it can be addressed and as far as possible prevent it from impacting these babies’ development.
“It has been estimated that between four and six in every 1 000 South African children will be born with, or will develop, hearing loss in their first weeks of life. At a national level, this represents a considerable number of affected children and families,” says Jacques du Plessis, managing director of the Netcare hospital division.
Du Plessis says Netcare has entered into a preferred provider arrangement with the South African Association of Audiologists (SAAA), a professional association for audiologists in South Africa, to ensure that all neonates born at Netcare facilities will have their hearing screened by professionally qualified audiologists.
The cost of the specialised screening is covered as part of Netcare’s Maternity Passport offering, which can be obtained when expectant parents book their confinement at a Netcare maternity unit.
“Netcare’s path-finding national hearing screening programme has been introduced so that babies can benefit from the specialised screening necessary to detect and diagnose hearing loss in the first weeks of their lives. Made possible by Netcare’s collaboration with the SAAA and the non-profit organisation HI HOPES, this initiative ultimately aims to assist in tackling the challenge of hearing loss in our children,” notes Sharlene Swart, national co-ordinator of the mother and baby wellness clinics located at selected Netcare hospitals.
“Leading international audiology experts have provided input on the programme, which was initially piloted at Netcare Park Lane Hospital in Johannesburg with great success more than a year ago.”
“The South African Government has emphasised the importance of the early detection and intervention in infant hearing impairment and we hope that this initiative can serve as a model for other similar cooperative arrangements within the health sector nationally,” adds Swart.
Dr Susan Strauss, national president of the SAAA and chairperson of the organising committee of the World Congress of Audiology 2018, said that it was “a privilege” for the SAAA and its audiologists to be collaborating with Netcare to deliver the new infant screening programme.
“If hearing impairments are detected as soon as possible after birth, they can then be addressed before they impact a child’s development, giving them the best possible start in life. Fortunately, today’s specialised hearing screening tests make it possible to detect hearing problems in the very first days of a baby’s life.
“It is all about early access to critical hearing services for babies with disabling hearing loss and meaningfully improved outcomes for these children. This Netcare initiative to have newborns screened by audiologists will make timeous treatment for hearing impairments possible and no doubt enhance the quality of lives of thousands of South African children in the future,” noted Dr Strauss.
“Since it is the audiologist who takes responsibility for the management of early hearing detection and intervention programmes, it is critical for us as an association to support audiologists to conduct quality newborn hearing screening and to ensure that there is no loss to follow-up, and to ensure quality hearing services to babies with hearing loss.”
Professor Claudine Storbeck, director of HI HOPES, an organisation that enables early intervention for deaf and hard of hearing infants in South Africa, congratulated Netcare on developing and introducing its infant screening programme. She says that the role of HI HOPES within the Netcare programme will be to facilitate family-centred early intervention and provide support for each affected family within their home context.
“Neonates who have hearing loss and who do not receive appropriate intervention, treatment and management early on, can experience a range of significant developmental delays including communication, speech and language, as they grow up,” affirms Prof Storbeck, who is also the director of the Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“The impact of infant hearing impairment therefore represents a considerable challenge not only in South Africa but also globally, and indeed the Netcare programme comes at a time in which there has been a strong move toward universal newborn hearing screening [UNHS] internationally.”
Prof Storbeck says that international guidelines propose that screening for hearing loss occurs by no later than one month of age, and early intervention should be in place by no later than six months of age. The specific interventions will depend on the cause of the hearing impairment and the specific circumstances of the child. They can, however, include amplification, therapeutic interventions, as well as holistic child and family-centred early intervention.
According to the professor, there has never been a formal national data management system of children with hearing loss in South Africa. Netcare in partnership with HI HOPES, have therefore launched a data management application that will facilitate the capturing of appropriate data about the Netcare programme. She says that while the data will only cover data from Netcare hospitals, it should reveal some important trends regarding hearing impairment in children locally.
“The implementation of the Netcare screening programme is exciting as it will provide many infants with hearing impairment with the opportunity to have their hearing problems addressed timeously and to develop to their full potential,” concludes Du Plessis.