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Early hearing impairment detection for Filipino infants

Better hearing screening technologies for newborns are being developed by researchers from the University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila) and the University of California Davis (UC Davis).

According to a recent report, this will pave the way for early detection of hearing impairment among Filipino infants.

The project Hearing for Life: Increasing the Rates of Newborn Hearing Screening with Novel Technologies and Telehealth (HeLe Project) is set to produce an innovative hearing screening device and telehealth technologies.

E-learning modules for training newborn hearing screeners and users, an electronic medical record module for newborn hearing screening, a tele-referral system, and a newborn hearing screening registry will all be included.

These will allow community-based early hearing screening in Rural Health Units (RHUs) that are easily and locally accessible.

As reported, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) through the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institutes (PCARI) Project is funding the project.

CHED-PCARI is a government initiative that aims to advance the country’s capacity for research and development by addressing societal-scale problems related to health innovation and translational medicine (HITM) and information infrastructure development (IID).

According to a 2013 study led by the HeLe Project Head, at least 8 profoundly hearing deaf babies are born every day in the Philippines or one deaf baby born every three hours.

Moreover, statistics show that less than 10% of Filipino babies are screened each year for hearing loss because of the limited number of facilities available and the high cost of screening devices.

The HeLe hearing screening device, together with the telehealth technologies, is envisioned to be a cost-effective model for conducting newborn hearing screening that will be affordable to the government.

It will enable the local government units (LGUs) to deploy the system to its regional health units and even barangay health centres.

This will therefore capture close to 100%, if not all, of the live births in the country for newborn hearing screening.

The process starts with the detection of hearing impairment of the baby via the HeLe Hearing Screening Device.

The RHU then assists the family by referring them to confirmatory centres through the web-based referral system.

The web-based referral system allows the RHU to keep track of the status and inform the families of their appointment or testing results.

Available for use on tablets or mobile phones, the device has a user-friendly interface.

Portability is the aim as the HeLe device is envisioned to be used anywhere.

Screeners will be trained and certified by the Newborn Hearing Reference Centre, the implementing agency authorised by the Department of Health to handle all aspects of newborn hearing screening.

The project has seen successful field trials on its safety and usability during its first year of implementation.

The device was tested in Bulacan, Romblon, Manila, Bacolod, and Iloilo.

It is still undergoing development and has not been deployed, but the telehealth technologies are now being used in the pilot sites.

The HeLe project attempts early detection, which may save the child from trauma caused by permanent hearing loss.

This may also help the family of the hearing impaired to prepare for future costs in terms of special education and special care.

Currently, cochlear implants and hearing devices are some of the technologies available to treat hearing problems but many Filipinos cannot afford to buy them.

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