The Newborn Hearing Screening and Remediation Programme implemented by the Child Care Centre here has been adopted as a national-level programme of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP).

The centre is a joint venture of the IAP, Kochi, and the District Child Welfare Council, with an executive board chaired by the District Collector.

The Kochi model will be replicated elsewhere in the State and country as a model for a developing nation, Abraham K. Paul, paediatrician and convener of the screening programme here, said.

The developed nations have a universal newborn hearing screening programme to screen all newborn babies for hearing deficit and other disorders before they are discharged from hospitals after birth. However, with a hearing screening machine coming at a price of Rs.3.1 lakh, all hospitals in a country such as India cannot afford it.

The Kochi model provides hearing screening for babies in 35 hospitals (30 in Ernakulam district and five in neighbouring Kottayam and Thrissur).

The four staff members of the Child Care Centre take the machine (Otoport Lite Screener) to different hospitals every day of the week, Dr. Paul said.

As many as 34,000 babies have been screened since the project started in 2003 and the programme has detected problems in 48.

Chandigarh, Kolkata, Pune, and Thane are going to start the programme supported by the IAP branches in those cities.

In the State, the model is being adopted by Kollam, while Thrissur and Thiruvananthapuram are going to follow suit.

The programme has begun in Palakkad, though two private hospitals are implementing it.

The incidence of defective hearing in the general population is about 2-4 per 1,000. A more practical approach will be to screen at least high-risk babies, Dr. Paul said.

Newborn babies in the high-risk category have birth weight less than 1.5 kg, neonatal jaundice, meningitis, birth asphyxia, craniofacial anomalies, or syndromes associated with defective hearing; require ventilator care and ototoxic medications; and have a family history of defective hearing and mothers with intrauterine infections.

Such babies have a higher incidence of hearing loss of 1.5-15 per cent, he said.

Early identification

Early identification of hearing problems is important because these should be remedied at least before six months of age, so that the baby will have near normal speech and language development.

If detection and remedy is done after a year, language development will be adversely affected and if done after two or three years, the child will have no hearing and will be unable to speak.

As many as 34,000 babies have been screened since the project started in 2003 and the programme has detected problems in 48.