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May 22, 2007

Sound of silence will soon be over

From: The Dominion Post, New Zealand - May 22, 2007

RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post

Wellington man Chris Peters has "heard" the best news - his long wait for a cochlear implant will soon be over, thanks to a Budget boost to pay for 50 operations a year.

However, Mr Peters, who is spokesman for the Hearing Association, said there was little help in last week's Budget for most of the 400,000 New Zealanders suffering hearing impairment.

Since it began to deteriorate 25 years ago, Mr Peters' hearing has become so bad that his $5000 hearing aids are "largely decorative". He has been unable to use the phone since 1995.

He was referred for an implant in 2005, but last year was told it would take at least five years.

"Until last year, adults were virtually shut out of the implant programme and the waiting list earlier this year topped 100 simply because of the lack of funding - at a time when the Government is running huge surpluses."

The Health Ministry says 79 adults, but no children, are waiting for funding for cochlear implants. Health Minister Pete Hodgson's office confirmed the extra funding, worth $8.4 million over the next four years, will give 50 adults and children implants each year, and provide one-off funding for 50 operations for adults on the waiting list.

Mr Peters said there was no question babies and young children should come first but he was pleased the minister had recognised the importance of implants that could let adults lead more productive lives.

Though he had not let deafness hold him back, it was socially alienating. "I'm looking forward to doing ordinary things, like having a conversation in the dark. "At the moment, my wife has to turn the light on when she wants to talk to me!"

© 2007 The Dominion Post.