Newborns fail to benefit from screening due to non-availability of devices for the past 9 months

At Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, a job well-begun remains half-done. For the past five months, researchers from the ENT department have been screening newborns at the Government Women and Children Hospital, Egmore, for congenital deafness.

The hospital has invested in a wireless audiometer and automated auditory brainstem response equipment to screen newborns for hearing loss. However, the children do not benefit from the screening and follow-up programmes as the hospital has not received cochlear implants for the past nine months.

The results of the screening programme were released at a function held at the ENT department of Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital on Saturday in commemoration of World Deaf Week, annually observed during the last week of September.

The researched have identified at least 26 babies as congenitally deaf. Repeated screening has confirmed that six of them have hearing loss. A five-month-old baby has been provided with a hearing aid and the parents have been advised to monitor the child for any improvement in its hearing ability.

The parents of the other babies have been advised to return for further investigations. “They will not be provided hearing aids until they are six months old. We will follow up on these babies and do confirmatory tests periodically before we decide on the mode of intervention,” said speech pathologist V. Jaya, who is leading the team of researchers.

The team took up the screening of newborns a day after their birth at the maternity hospital in May and has since tested 550 babies. “There may be various reasons like hypoxia, jaundice or infection behind the deafness. We have to do screening in large numbers to infer the cause for the entire population,” she added.

According to statistics released by the hospital, in every 1,000 deliveries, six babies are born deaf. Doctors say sometimes babies may be born with temporary infection which could recede if treated correctly.

If all tests prove the child is profoundly deaf then it is listed as a candidate for cochlear implant. Ever since the State government decided to offer cochlear implants under the Chief Minister’s health insurance scheme, only 28 children have benefitted. A total of 200 children have been registered since January this year and none has received an implant. Children requiring the implant must undergo surgery before they turn six years of age to achieve the best results, say doctors.

At present, GH is the only hospital authorised to perform the surgery. A senior health department official said it would be better if postgraduate ENT students in all teaching government hospitals with full-fledged ENT departments are trained to do the surgery. The hospital officials said they did not know when the implants would be provided to them.

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