The UAE Ministry of Health launched a revitalized hearing screening program for newborns in the Northern Emirates to reduce the incidence of hearing problems.
The Middle East has a disproportionate number of young children who suffer from hearing loss. A recent survey by Cochlear estimates that up to 90 percent of children in the region who get treatment for hearing problems are between three and 17 years of age.
In the UAE, there are currently no official statistics on hearing loss to guide local health officials but there are efforts to compile such data.
The high number of affected children indicate that hearing screening for newborns and children younger than three may not be adequate, since many of them are found to have severe or permanent damage by the time they become toddlers.
Genetic and cultural factors play a big factor for the high incidence of hearing loss among children in the region, but inadequate screening and the lack of early intervention programs are also to blame.
As a response to this growing public health care problem, the Ministry of Health of the United Arab Emirates has launched a program to screen newborns for congenital hearing disorders. It will be carried out in all public and private hospitals across all medical districts, according to a report by The National.
The ministry will work with designated coordinators at hospitals and clinics to ensure the success of the newborn screening program.
“It is our responsibility to provide care for both women and children by adopting the best health practices in this field,” Amina Al Qubaisi, head of the ministry’s maternity and childhood division, said during a seminar attended by audiologists, speech therapists, nurses, surgeons, and ear, nose and throat specialists.
Speakers and guests tackled the present challenges facing hearing screening and deafness prevention programs in Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah, and Fujairah, sometimes collectively called the Northern Emirates.
The region, known in many indicators to be far behind more affluent Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has been receiving more funding lately to improve infrastructure and health care services, including the completion of two major hospitals.
During the seminar, Dr. Mohammed Salah, genetic diseases consultant at the ministry, confirmed the genetic link connecting most cases of hearing loss in infants in the UAE, and highlighted the importance of genetic counseling to families to pin down the exact cause.
Health experts say screening and testing for hearing defects at an early age is important to avoid the negative impact on a child’s health. Aside from physical limitations, children with hearing loss suffer from stunted emotional and psychological development. They can be withdrawn socially and may not reach their full potential in society.
Government initiatives such as the newborn hearing program are targeted at reducing cases of hearing loss in this vulnerable age group. Health facilities such as Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) are also teaming up with foreign companies like Cochlear to tackle the problem head on.
Citizens and residents of the UAE are doing their share by raising awareness to challenges encountered by the hearing-impaired. For example, the Hear Us Sign campaign and roadshow to promote sign language began last month, culminating in the “Hear my Voice – Empowering the Deaf” conference held at the DHCC in mid-April. It has also been announced by backers of the campaign that a UAE sign language dictionary will soon be completed.