In many countries babies and young children have their hearing tested as standard. But in Malawai, the world’s fourth poorest country, only three audiologists and two ENT surgeons support a population of over 18 million people. And with half of the population below the poverty line, few can afford the basic travel costs to receive the vital help that they need to hear again.
Hearing loss is on the rise
Due to common diseases, including mumps, measles and malaria, the population is twice as likely than those in Europe to be born with, or develop, hearing loss. The knock-on effects for a child with hearing loss in Malawi are dramatic. With schools consisting of classes with around 200 children, this can result in children never returning to the education system.
This is the reality that led to the intervention of Dr David Strachan (Consultant ENT Surgeon at Bradford Royal Infirmary) and Dr Wakisa Mulwafu (Consultant ENT Surgeon at Malawi’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital), with support of MED-EL and charity Sound Seekers, to develop a much-needed audiology and cochlear implant service in Malawi.
Madonna’s 'Raising Malawi' Charity have also funded a 50 bed Paediatric ward and intensive care unit.
Hearing loss treatment in Malawi
Ten years ago, there was virtually no audiology facilities for even basic hearing tests in the whole of Malawi and no ENT facilities or trained ENT clinicians. Fast forward to 2019 and the partnership of donated MED-EL cochlear implants and an investment of much time and training from Dr Strachan and a team of volunteer audiology professionals from the UK, has not only led to 16 children having their hearing restored, but great strides have been made towards a sustainable hearing loss treatment system for Malawi.
Malawi’s first cochlear implant patient was Richard. A young boy who, after losing his hearing, began to struggle to keep up in school. The first two words spoken by Richard on the day that his cochlear implant was ‘switched-on’ summed up perfectly the life-changing success of the operations: “Ndikumva!" (“I hear”).