15 August 2016

Kenya: People With Hearing Impairment Suffering Neglect From State and Insurers

Kenyans who suffer from hearing impairment - about 640,000, according to the Ministry of Health - and need to get assistive devices such as hearing aids have to pay for them.

Most local health insurers, including National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), do not have a cover for hearing problems.

Jubilee Insurance, for instance, categorically states that hearing aids are part of a longer list of "standard exclusions" - meaning it is not covered - in its medical scheme. If covered, it is under a special arrangement outside the premiums paid and, in most cases, not 100 per cent.

The gadgets are way out of reach for most people who need them. A hearing aid costs anything from Sh30,000 apiece, with some technologically advanced models, such as the "aquatic" ones that the user can wear while swimming, going for Sh160,000. Batteries to power the gadget also need to be replaced regularly, at a cost.

At least 56 million people use hearing aids globally, yet production only meets about 10 per cent of the demand and three per cent in developing countries.

"At the moment, there is no provision for supply of hearing aids or accessories at the public health facilities," Dr Cleopa Mailu, the Health Cabinet Secretary, told the Nation.


A matter Mr Mwiti Marete, an editor with this newspaper, knows all too well. Mr Marete has had a hearing impairment since birth. And when he was recently challenged to seek help, it was not going to be easy.

"Hearing aids are expensive and, until recently, I did not know that they were not covered by my private insurer, as well as NHIF," said Mr Marete. "I was advised to register with National Council for Persons with Disability (NCPWD) so as to get help."

While at NCPWD, he was given a list of "approved" hospitals where he could undergo a disability assessment test and submit the results to the State agency for further action.

"The assessment comprises an audiogram test, done using a computer, and an in-depth interview conducted by a panel of doctors, who pass the results to the Ministry of Health and on to NCPWD for registration," Mr Marete explained.

NCPWD then refers one to an NGO that has fair trade practices, where experts fit the gadgets and, if the agency is buying the gadgets for the patient, invoice it.

Mr Marete said: "You can guess my shock when, after I asked the doctor who was testing me how much corrective surgery would cost me, he replied: 'More than Sh3 million'".

Patients also have to battle with stigma and ignorance on help.

Mr Richard Mwangi, the chief executive officer of IncusEar Hearing and Balance Centre, said hearing loss has been more stigmatised than, say, poor eyesight. He added that it is now possible to test newborns for hearing anomalies and seek corrective action early.

"Catching the problem early makes a big difference in a child's development, including how they understand a language," he said.


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