Help for people with hearing impairment arrives

Ministry of Health Head of Clinical Services Manasseh Bocha speaks to the press during the launch of the Starkey digital hearing devices. PHOTO/Aggrey Omboki, The Scholar Media Africa.

“An estimated 2 million Kenyans are living with some degree of hearing loss,” the Ministry of Health (MoH) head of clinical services, Mr. Manasseh Bocha, has said.

“World Health Organization (WHO) statistics indicate that one in every five people or 20 percent of people globally live with some degree of hearing loss,” said Mr. Bocha. “This group includes 2m Kenyans out of the 135m affected people in Africa,” the clinical services head added.

He was speaking in Nairobi on May 29, 2022, during the launch of digital hearing devices manufactured by Starkey Hearing Technologies.

According to senior audiologist Eva Mwangi of Starkey, the devices, which are currently the most powerful hearing aids in the world, are designed with customer comfort and convenience in mind.

“We have a range of devices that have been developed for our various customers’ needs, including convenience, skin complexion and ear size. Each device is customized to snugly fit into place in the ear or behind the ear,” said Ms. Mwangi.

Addressing the high-powered gathering that included top representatives from the public and private healthcare sector, the audiologist said the devices have also been developed using Evolve AI technology, which places them at the top of the global range of available hearing aids.

Among the impressive range of features in the new devices is a reminder feature that alerts the wearer of the time to take medicines, as well as important dates like birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

Another feature is the fall alert that warns the caregiver whenever the wearer falls.

“This specific feature is particularly important for caregivers watching over elderly patients. Once the patient falls, the device sends an alert to the caregiver’s phone, enabling quick action to attend to the distressed patient,” said Ms. Mwangi.

The devices also have a feature that allows the wearer to locate their phone if it gets misplaced in a room or public place.

“Once the wearer instructs the device to find the phone, it triggers the connected phone to ring, alerting him or her of its location,” explained Ms. Mwangi.

Mr. Bocha said the hearing loss crisis attributed to tinnitus and other conditions is expected to get worse worldwide.

“Globally, the number of people with hearing loss is expected to rise to 2.5 bn. At least 200m will require rehabilitation,” he said. 

Mr. Bocha told The Scholar that these numbers are projected to rise due to a number of causes, including sustained exposure to high levels of noise and ototoxic medicines that affect the hearing of adults and children.

Ototoxicity is a condition caused by ototoxic medication. It occurs when a person develops hearing or balance problems due to a medicine.

According to the senior Starkey audiologist, Ms. Mwangi, ototoxicity can happen when a patient is given a high drug dose to treat malaria, cancer, infections, or other illnesses.

“Some drugs can cause tinnitus or other conditions that can affect one’s hearing,” she revealed.

Ms. Mwangi says tinnitus is a condition that results in a feeling of noise in the ears, such as ringing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, or whistling.

“The noise may be continuous or intermittent. Most of the time, only the person who has tinnitus can hear it, which is known as subjective tinnitus,” she says.

According to the hearing health website, there is a wide range of medications that can cause tinnitus.

“There are more than 450 prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can trigger tinnitus, make existing tinnitus worse, or cause a new tinnitus sound to appear. In fact, most drug classes have tinnitus-causing drugs sprinkled throughout,” reads the website.

“For example, antibiotics, painkillers, anti-anxiety, and anti-depression drugs, antimalarial medications, anti-cancer drugs, and blood pressure controlling medications are a few examples of medications that can all trigger tinnitus,” the site continues.

Mr. Bocha appealed to young Kenyans to treat their ears with more kindness, adding that the practice of playing loud music via headphones during most of their waking hours was endangering their hearing.

“I know most youth think walking around majestically with headphones blasting music at high volumes is deemed cool and a lifestyle fad. However, the habit has serious implications for their ears, which could lose their hearing ability as a result,” said the MoH official.

Mr. Bocha told the participants about his experience while driving to the event along a city highway.

“As I was driving along Jogoo Road to get to this event, I encountered a matatu that was playing music at a very high volume. Although the public service vehicle (PSV) was some distance away, I could hear the music blasting into my car as if I was seated in the matatu with the rest of the passengers,” he recounted.

He appealed to Kenyans to desist from exposing themselves to deafening volumes of sound, likening the experience to being trapped in a torture chamber.

Starkey Kenya chief executive Nitin Gupta addresses the press during the launch of a new range of powerful digital hearing aids. PHOTO/Aggrey Omboki, The Scholar Media Africa.

“It is not healthy to expose oneself to such high volumes of sound under the pretext that one is enjoying listening to music. Such environments can only be referred to as torture chambers which can cause permanent hearing loss,” Mr. Bocha said.

Mr. Bocha said the ministry was in talks with the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) and private health insurance providers to include the devices in the Kenya Essential Medicines List that guides the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA) on the medical commodities to purchase for

“It has come to our attention that the essential medicines list does not have provision for the purchase of basic hearing commodities like ear-drops and ointments. We are going to redo the list to include the commodities in addition to the hearing aids that will then be made available to patients under the NHIF scheme,” he told the audience.

Starkey Kenya Managing Director, Nitin Gupta, said the devices would be made available to Kenyans at affordable prices.

Mr. Gupta briefly emphasized that the company did not consider its activities a business but rather an essential service to improve the living standards in the community.

“We do not consider our activities a business but see them as a service to better the living standards of those of us that have experienced the often bewildering and difficult process of hearing loss,” said Mr. Gupta.

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