THE government yesterday launched a four-year national strategic plan for ear and hearing care 2019/23 with commitment to reaching most rural dwellers.
Launching the plan, Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Ummy Mwalimu said the government had made remarkable efforts to ensure there was a significant reduction in the number of people with hearing impairment.
"This," she said, "has been made possible through improvement in screening and diagnostic services at community, school and workplace levels to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment." "In the past 10 years we managed to increase the number of ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists from 11 in 2009 to 46 last year," she said.
She added that the government was supporting experts to perform surgery meant to repair hearing impairment, including cochlear implants at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH). Ms Mwalimu gave an example of a single procedure, saying the government had subsidised almost 35m/- as initial cost for installation of a cochlear implant to all under five children with profound hearing impairment.
"In the past two years our experts attended to 23 children and there were more than 100 children queuing for this service. We look forward to expanding this service to other specialised hospitals and improve preventive services, which are cheap and easy to manage even at household level," she noted.
She said among the top 10 causes of ear and hearing problems 60 per cent were preventable at no cost, the remaining 40 per cent might need expert management.
She noted that chronic ear infection, use of antibiotics with autotoxin effects without consulting a physician, mechanical injuries to the ear drum by inserting instruments or excessive noisy pollutions like in industries and use of earphones were among the causes.
"Lack of awareness about risk factors and preventive measure are some of the major concerns that this document will address although lack of skilled human resources is a big challenge. To date, one ENT specialist serves more than one million people," she said. She added that one audiologist served almost 18 million Tanzanians and one speech and language specialist served also 18 million Tanzanians.
"It is my sincere hope that through this partnership with Starkey Foundation for Ear and Hearing Care we will address these challenges and come out victorious as one team."
The strategy, the minister said had come at the right time given an increase in the number of people diagnosed with hearing impairment due to increased exposure to risk factors attributed to rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and a rise in non-communicable diseases.
The minister explained that establishing the extent of ear and hearing problems especially in communities had been challenging due to inconsistency and limited resources to conduct population- based surveys.
However, in some selected studies in different settings, it has been shown that, almost three per cent of primary schoolchildren have different degrees of hearing impairment.
Data shows that, at least 24 per cent of people with chronic conditions particularly diabetes and almost 50 per cent of people in mining and textile industries suffer from varying degrees of ear and hearing problems.
The ear and hearing problems compromise significantly the quality of life and affect more children in their developmental age, as the damage resulting from hearing problems affects learning and their level of functions in all domains of life, including academic, social and occupational skills.
For her part, Curative Services Director, Dr Grace Magembe, said they aimed at early hearing disability interventions and expanding health services to rural health facilities where majority of people were living.
Dr Bill Austin from Starkey Foundation for Ear and Hearing Care stressed a need to address ear and hearing impairment from early age.