HearSouthAfrica, Hear the World Foundation – Hear the World Foundation

In order to give needy people access to hearing medical care, the Hear the World Foundation & HearX is testing children’s hearing with an app.

One of South Africa’s biggest problems continues to be the huge gap between rich and poor and the lack of access to health care for those in need. To close this gap, the Hear the World Foundation is working closely with the HearX Group, which has developed an app that lay people can use to perform hearing screening. The aim of the project is to test 10,000 children by early 2019. Hear the World also donates hearing aids to children who have been identified as suffering from hearing loss.

Although the South African government introduced a compulsory hearing test programme for schoolchildren in 2012, its implementation is not proceeding as planned. There is a lack of experts: In South Africa there are an average of 2.4 audiologists per 100,000 inhabitants – in Great Britain the figure is 16.4. In addition, the audiological equipment is unaffordable for the South African state.

The South African startup hearX Group has addressed this problem: It has developed an app with which lay people can carry out hearing tests. The hearScreen app is designed so that hearing screenings can be carried out without any knowledge of audiology and only with a special smartphone and headphones – with minimal training effort.

A further advantage of the app: the costs for hearing tests are reduced by 50 to 70 percent.

Early detection is important

The earlier a hearing loss is detected and treated, the better the chances for children to develop in line with their age. If a hearing loss is not treated, affected children have great difficulty in learning to speak. They cannot properly follow lessons – and sometimes they cannot attend school at all. The consequences for children from low-income families are fatal: there is a threat of a life with restrictions and social isolation.

Screening in the Townships of South Africa

Early detection and timely treatment of hearing loss is at the heart of the HearSouthAfrica project. By March 2019, the hearing of 10,000 needy children living in townships near Cape Town and Pretoria is to be tested using the HearScreen app. The App has been used since July 2017 in several underserved townships: Soshonguve, Refilwe, Mamelodi, Atteridgeville, Eersterust, Laudium, Hammanskraal and Tembisa near Johannesburg with around 1.4 million inhabitants and Khayelitsha in Cape Town with around 2.5 million inhabitants. The aim is also to build up capacities for audiological aftercare.

The testers: locals without audiological knowledge

The hearing tests are carried out by residents of the townships themselves. They know their way around, can assess potentially dangerous situations well and speak the African languages. For these people, their commitment to HearSouthAfrica means a lot: they contribute to their community and find a way out of unemployment. After a brief introduction to the operation of the app and the headphones, they can carry out the tests themselves.

Hearing aids and aftercare for children

If a child is diagnosed with hearing loss, a second test with the hearScreen App will follow to confirm the first result. If a child does not pass both tests, he or she will be referred to a local audiologist. If the government health program is unable to provide the child with its own hearing aids in a timely manner, the child will be loaned hearing aids from the Hear the World Foundation. This ensures that needy children are provided with hearing aids as early as possible and that their development is not slowed by long waiting times.

So hilft die Hear the World Foundation

For two years now, the Swiss Hear the World Foundation has been supporting the project with funds for the screening project, hearing aids and by sending volunteer pedaudiologists – audiologists who are specially trained for children. The aim is for the South African state to take over the project in future.

Better hearing for 88 needy children

In July, 88 children in need received hearing aids. A team of four pediatric audiologists, all volunteers from the Sonova Group, flew from around the world to the Carel du Toit Centre in Cape Town for four days. The charitable audiology centre is another partner in the project. It offers hearing tests, hearing aid fittings and speech therapy for children in need.

Hear the World Ambassador gives hope to children

Together with the Hear the World Foundation team, Gregor Meyle, German singer-songwriter and ambassador for conscious hearing, also travelled to South Africa. With the hearScreen app Meyle himself conducted hearing tests in Kayelitsha – and sang and played music with the children with hearing loss. His mission: Meyle motivates the children to continue training their language skills with unbridled joy in music – and thereby gives them hope for their future.

The goal for the future: winning state support

To ensure the long-term success of the project, the team systematically collects data from the app in collaboration with Prof. De Wet Swanepoel of the University of Pretoria. With the research results, the team wants to convince the South African government of the importance of the project and show how important it is to enable children to develop according to their age.

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Christina Cherry
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