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March 17, 2005

Let's hear it for the newborn ear tests

From: People's Daily Online - Beijing,China - Mar 17, 2005

A three-day-old baby girl was sleeping well yesterday morning after being fed, when Dr Shi Yingying came to check her hearing.

Her left ear passed the test but the right failed the test twice. Dr Shi cleaned the inside of the troubled ear with a cotton bud and tried again. This time, the result was good.

A nurse wrote down the results in a notebook, one of many such tests which are recorded at the International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital, under the China Welfare Institute.

Dr Shi, director of the Neonatology Department, said: "Each day, we conduct hearing tests for some 20 newborns when they are three days old.

If babies fail the first check, they have another 42 days later.

After the second check, babies with hearing defects will be checked out further in hearing and speech centres.

Some will have surgery, be given hearing aids or artificial cochlea implants to help with speech.

In many developed countries, hearing tests are a legal requirement for newborns. However, in China, this kind of hearing test has just begun with Shanghai taking the lead.

With the aim of "curing" those babies who are deaf or mute, in 2002 the city's Health Bureau initiated a full-scale "Newborn Hearing Screening Programme" for all infants born in Shanghai's hospitals. By 2004, 90 per cent of newborns had been tested.

Statistics show that in the last three years, among 260,418 newborns in the city, 233,853 had received hearing tests and 3,710 of them (1.41 per cent) had been found to have hearing problems.

"Shanghai is the only city in China to require hearing screening for all newborns, and the coverage exceeds many other big cities in developed countries," said Professor Wu Hao, director of the Hearing and Speech Centre.

Statistics show that one to three newborns in every 1,000 are born with serious hearing defects, but usually their hearing problems were discovered quite late. Thus, the best time for language development is missed.

"Many babies with hearing defects become mute because they cannot hear what is going on around them. Research shows that if there is medical intervention in the first six months, the deaf baby can still acquire language and communication abilities, just like normal children," said Professor Wu.

Screening of newborns and early medical intervention have proven to be the most effective preventive measures.

The screening programme benefits parents and society too. In 2001, the Public Health School of Fudan University and the Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau conducted research and found the social costs of supporting a deaf person, for example, special education and their inability to do some jobs, were seven times more than the cost of treatment.

"In the long term, it saves money if we carry out hearing tests and offer treatment. It also reduces many social problems among deaf and mute groups," said Wu.

Problems adapting to everyday life, learning difficulties and psychological problems are common results of hearing defects.

"We hope the joint efforts of doctors and parents will reduce hearing defects by 95 per cent and hopefully within 10 years, schools for deaf-mute children will be unnecessary in Shanghai," said Wu.

Recently, medical experts from across China gathered in Shanghai with plans to promote the city's hearing programme in 10 provinces and big cities including Jiangsu, Beijing and Helongjiang.

Wu said Shanghai's success has a lot to do with its financial strength and it will take a long time to promote the programme nationwide. In Shanghai, the government sometimes gives money to families to help pay for hearing aids which can cost 50,000 yuan (US$6,000). The cost of an implanted cochlea is at least 140,000 yuan (US$17,000).

It costs 40 yuan (US$4.8) for the first hearing test which is still a lot of money for many rural residents, said Wu. He wants a foundation to be set up to help children with hearing problems.

Source: China Daily

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