WHO puts Kerala girl on World Hearing Day poster

Rizwana, a final year MBBS student, is an example that early newborn screening and consistent interventions can save hearing impaired children from being disabled for life

March 03, 2023 07:37 pm | Updated 09:37 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Photo: who.int

Photo: who.int

Rizwana was six years old when she first heard the music of the rain and the joyous twitter of birds in the morning. She did not know till then that the anklets on her feet could produce such a melodious jingle… or that hearing her mom’s voice for the first time can bring her such joy.

The world that the cochlear implant opened up for Rizwana, who was born with hearing impairment, was nothing short of magic. It saved her from what would have been a lifetime of disability, helped her attend normal school and pursue her dreams with so much confidence.

A final year MBBS student at the Government Medical College Hospital, Kottayam, Rizwana is a living example that early newborn screening and consistent interventions can save many hearing impaired children from being disabled for life.

It is Rizwana’s story that WHO India has chosen to put on its poster on World Hearing Day (March 3) to send out this powerful message to millions.

It was the determination and grit of her parents — Abdul Rasheed and Sabitha of Mannanchery, Alappuzha — that made it possible for Rizwana to hear and speak normally, despite she being a late candidate for cochlear implantation.

Her hearing impairment was identified when she was a year old. Her parents had no idea about cochlear implantation at the time but she was put on rigorous speech therapy and was home-schooled. When cochlear implantation was done at the age of six, her hearing was restored but doctors were not sure that she would speak.

“My parents put in so much hard work to consistently train me with speech therapy even when they were not sure it will yield positive results. It is because they never gave up on me that despite the late cochlear implantation, I could speak and hear normally,” Rizwana says.

Cochlear implant is an electronic hearing device designed to produce useful hearing sensations to a person with severe to profound nerve deafness by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear, when implanted.

Implantation is recommended as early as possible, before 18 months of age, to expose children to sounds during the critical period of language acquisition. After implantation, intense speech and language therapy is required to get the best results.

WHO estimates that 63 million people in India have hearing impairment and at least 60% of children with congenital hearing disorders can be saved from this disability through newborn universal hearing screening and early interventions.

Since 2018, all infants born in government hospitals in Kerala undergo hearing screening at birth. Sruthitharangam, a government-sponsored cochlear implantation programme started in 2012, has so far saved 1,200 children from hearing disability.

Under the Union Ministry of Social Justice’s Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase / Fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP) scheme, a financial assistance of up to ₹7 lakh is given to economically backward families for cochlear implantation and rehabilitation.

For Rizwana, the ENT surgeon who introduced her to the world of sounds is her hero. And she hopes to be an ENT surgeon herself one day.

“I would be very happy if my story encourages more parents with hearing impaired children not to give up, ever,” she says.

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