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December 14, 2003

Indian expert shares techniques of restoring hearing

From: New Kerala, India - Dec 14, 2003

New Delhi, Dec 14 : For all her life, Komala Singh, the 11-year-old daughter of a daily-wage worker in Uttar Pradesh, lived in a world of silence, unable to derive enjoyment from the sounds that thrilled most children.

Today, thanks to cochlear implant surgery performed at the state-run Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital here, she can sing and recite tables.

"Her world is no longer devoid of sounds," said J.M. Hans, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist at the hospital, with great satisfaction.

Komala is one of around 25 young people Hans, head of the hospital's ENT unit, has been able to help come out of the world of silence.

"Komala is one of the lucky few as her father, despite his poor economic condition, was brave and sensible enough to seek treatment at a correct age to make a difference to the effectiveness of the treatment," Hans, who is conducting a two-day international workshop in Delhi with a faculty of global experts, told IANS.

According to studies conducted over the last six years, about one million Indians have been found to suffer from cochlear problems, said Shantanu Banerjee, an ENT specialist.

RML Hospital is probably the country's only centre that offers cochlear implants for Rs.500,000, which constitutes only the cost of the hardware.

The implant is an elective treatment for children and adults who have lost all or most of their useful hearing in both ears.

Around 70 specialists from India, Singapore and Malaysia are attending the workshop to share experiences with experts from Austria, Greece, the US and Britain on various surgical techniques used for implants and to find solutions to problems encountered during surgery.

Considered an expert for his surgical skill and high rate of success, Hans Saturday held a live demonstration of the minimal surgical intervention technique developed in Greece that he has perfected.

As against conventional ear surgery that takes five to six hours, Hans said his technique is completed in just one-third the time.

"Our results are good because of the careful screening process we use to select the best candidates for implants, which are very expensive by Indian standards," admitted Hans.

"Unlike in the West, where innumerable implants are done both for adults and children, in India we have to consider the cost factor and show results. Not many realise that the greater the delay, the longer it will take for implants to show results."

The best results can be had if the treatment is done before the child is 12 years old. The older the child, the longer it will take him or her to respond and articulate as the brain forgets how to decode stimulation from the auditory nerve, Hans said.

"With increasing awareness among people it is heartening to see that more people are coming to seek treatment for their children at a young age to make the difference.

"What is more heartening is that parents are showing a preference for seeking treatment for their daughters," said Hans, who earlier this week performed implant surgery on a nine-month boy.

While Komala was able to get treatment with the help of contributions from locals of her hometown of Bulandshar, Hans revealed that in a couple of cases parents had opted to get their daughters treated in preference to their sons to give the girl a better start in life.

But thousands of children are born every day with variable hearing problems, said Hans, who is currently engaged in a World Health Organisation project to test hearing problems among people in Delhi.

In a study covering 9,000 people over the past year, Hans has found "severe lack of awareness among people to get proper treatment for their ear problems which can often create hearing difficulty".

While cochlear implants have been used for over three decades, it remains an expensive treatment and is likely to remain so with new developments both in electronic implant hardware and surgical techniques, said Alexei Iltchenko, area manager of Austria-based Medel Medical Electronis, manufacturers of implants.

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