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Early Intervention Required For The Hearing Impaired

A child called Sonam was born with a hearing in both ears in India, but she is now able to respond to sounds after completing her first year as result of a successful cochlear implant when she was only eight months old//. Sonam's parents detected their daughter's shortcoming when she was three months old. But they did not lose heart and were fast to act. And now four months down the line, she behaves like any other normal child.

"Sonam is one of the few lucky children whose problem was corrected early. By the time she is 18 months old, she is likely to develop as much language skills as would a normal child," said Sunil Kathuria, the doctor who spearheaded the operation.

"Congenital hearing loss is very common among Indian children. The estimated incidence varies from one to four per 1,000 births," Kathuria, head of the ENT Department at Batra Hospital here said.

Experts say children with congenital deafness affecting both ears can develop spoken language skills and be integrated into a normal school by the age of three or four years if their condition is diagnosed early and prompt action is taken.

"If detected early - ideally below one year - and treated properly, the child overcomes the disability and acquires speech and language abilities rapidly, bridging the gap with normal peers by three years," Kathuria said.

According to the International Deaf Children's Society, there are an estimated 3 million deaf children in India. Four in every 1,000 children are born deaf, with 25,000 deaf babies are born every year. Only one in 10 deaf children go to school and 50% of them drop out at the age of 13.

Cochlear implants represent a successful human attempt at restoring one of the five senses. First perfected in its present form by Graeme Clarke of Australia, they are a set of electrodes implanted surgically into the inner ear.

An external part called the speech processor (which resembles a hea ring aid) collects sound, processes it and stimulates the implanted electrodes across the skin. The external device and the implant under the scalp come together by magnetic coupling.

"When sound reaches the implant and the fine neurons of the cochlea, they decode the sound and send it to the brain to be perceived as sound," said Kathuria. When the damaged cochlea is bypassed by the implant and the intact neurons are stimulated, hearing can be restored.

But the implants do not come cheap - the most economical models cost between Rs.600,000 and 700,000. Over 1,00,000 implants have been done worldwide since the early 1980s, including nearly 1,000 at over 20 centres in India.

Indo-Asian News Service

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