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The gift of sound

‘The thing about hearing loss is that no one can see it.’

World Hearing Day on March 3, 2023, highlighted the importance of integrating ear and hearing care, within primary healthcare care.

Hearing loss is more common than we think – up to 19% of South African school children suffer from varying degrees of hearing difficulty. Hearing is the foundation for speech and language development as well as learning and communication. The long-term impact of losing one of the key senses, has a major impact on the quality of life.

The importance of hearing tests

According to the South African National Deaf Association (SANDA), children should have their hearing tested several times during their schooling: When they enter school, at ages 6, 8 and 10 and at least once during Grades 8 or 9 and Grades 10 and 12.

Which is why Bonitas Medical Fund decided to partner with The Gift of the Givers Foundation to support its Audiology Programme, which has been running since 2019. The Scheme has generously sponsored the entire programme for the 2023 teaching year, at a cost of R1.7 million.

On 23rd March, the Gift of the Givers team tested learners from Spearman Road Primary School in Berea, KZN – part of the 15 860 learners who are being tested during this audiology project. This project began during the first school term of 2023 and to date has tested 1 225 learners at four schools.

Left: Stanley Sabelo of Gift of the Givers – prepping a learner for his hearing test
Right: Taskeen Ameer, audiologist and head of the project, prepping a learner for her hearing test
A learner from Spearman Rd Primary having her hearing tested

‘The Gift of the Givers Foundation is internationally recognised for its swift disaster response, community support and healthcare interventions and we are delighted to be working with them says Lee Callakoppen, Principal Officer at Bonitas. ‘We are truly excited by this partnership and we know this audiology project will have a profound impact on so many lives.’ ‘Gift of the Givers values the ongoing partnership with Bonitas. Children’s learning is substantially compromised with hearing difficulties reducing the possibility for progress and achievement,’ said Dr Imtiaz Sooliman. ‘Appropriate, early intervention is critical to make a meaningful impact on the academic development of the learner.’

Principal Officer of Bonitas, Lee Callakoppen, having his hearing tested

Impact of loss of hearing

Hearing is one of our most important senses – it enables us to connect with one another. Loss of hearing not only impacts language development but also our ability to read, write, spell, concentrate and influences social skills. It becomes a challenge at school, on the sports field and during social activities.

Screening practicalities

A South African manufactured portable audiometer, called the Kuduwave, is being used for the project. This state-of-the-art, medically certified device has revolutionised the testing and diagnosis of auditory related deficiencies. It combines a headset, audiometer and sound booth into a single, lightweight device, which can be used in just about any location. This means the audiology team can test learners at school. ‘Two Kuduwave units are used to increase capacity and reduce downtime,’ explains Taskeen Ameer, audiologist with Gift of the Givers and head of the project.

The programme is overseen by an ear, nose and throat surgeon as well as an audiologist and speech therapist. They provide training, consultation and oversight for the audiology team conducting the screenings. ‘Each test takes between 5 and 15 minutes,’ explains Ameer. ‘During which time the learner’s middle ear is pressure tested for ear infections and ears will also be checked for inflammation and earwax.’

Diagnostics and after-care

‘If the learner fails the screening test, a full diagnostic test is undertaken. This project not only covers the screening but goes a step further and offers an after-care element. This includes follow-up medical treatment, if required, to ensure learners receive the assistance they need so that their development is not delayed.’

Ms Zibuyule Nzama, Principal at Spearman Road Primary said she was thrilled the school, which is 49 years old with a very diverse profile of learners, was chosen to be part of the project. ‘As educators we understand the importance hearing has on the learning and development of our students. We are grateful to both Bonitas and Gift of the Givers for making this project a reality and helping us screen our learners.

‘As a Bonitas member, it makes me proud to know my medical aid is supporting preventative and primary healthcare and involved in initiatives such as these.’ Children with undiagnosed hearing loss are often misdiagnosed as suffering from learning disabilities, ADHD or even autism spectrum disorder. They often present with poor school performance, poor attention as well as speech and language difficulties.

‘I cannot even begin to imagine a life not hearing someone’s voice, the lyrics of a song, rain falling on a roof or laughter,’ said Callakoppen. ‘As a medical aid we advocate for prevention through early screening, detection and treatment for any ailment – including hearing. ‘We are delighted with the success of the project during term one and look forward to the continued diagnosis of hearing difficulties and assistance to learners offered by this programme.’

Bonitas Medical Fund is a proud National Partner of the NSBC

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