Why Hearing Loss Looks Different in Developing Countries 

September 27, 2021

Katie Rivera- DCH Promotions, Teacher of the Deaf, Mother of a Deaf Child

Did you know that September is Deaf awareness month?

You also may or may not know that there are three different types of hearing loss. Conductive, Sensorineural and Mixed. Some can be aided with hearing aids or cochlear implants and some cannot. Some insurances cover the use of listening technology and some do not. Some people who need hearing devices have insurance and some do not. Some develop the hearing loss in the womb and for some it is as a child or an adult. To list a few of the most common causes, otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, autoimmune inner ear disease, taking ototoxic medications, being exposed to very loud noises repeatedly, acoustic neuroma, traumatic brain injury, presbycusis and I could go on.

…most people wouldn’t be anywhere near prepared for that

About 15% of our school age children in the United States have an identified hearing loss and about 90% of infants born with hearing loss are born to hearing families. Would you know how to start teaching your child language through sign language if you needed to tomorrow? Probably not, most people wouldn’t be anywhere near prepared for that.

Here in the United States we are lucky that over 97% of our infants are screened at birth for hearing loss and then monitoring continues after, every time you go see your primary care doctor or pediatrician for a child wellness check. AND still there are cases of hearing loss that are unidentified for years. You might even know somebody. I was somebody. At age six I was having a very difficult time learning how to read. Language was fine but reading was a whole other story. Conductive loss was identified and corrected and with intervention I was able to catch up.

Now my point isn’t to freak you out and I sincerely hope I didn’t, but I do want to draw your attention to what you think those statistic looks like in a developing country and for people who live in an impoverished community. If your main concerns are feeding your family, having a safe place to live or sleep, and just surviving each day, then imagine the overwhelmingness that comes with finding out your child cannot hear.  What would go through your mind? What would you worry about specifically?

In developing countries for people who live rurally or in an impoverished community, seeking out the pediatric audiologist, getting a referral for speech/language therapy,  and signing up for the local community college American Sign Language class, isn’t an option. Doctors and hospitals are hours away, sometimes days. Traveling doctors may visit that area or a nearby area once a year and that is about all of the medical care they might see for the year.

I visited a rural part of Kenya in 2015 with my husband and my daughter Harper (who is hearing). She was only 10 months old at the time. We were accompanying doctors and dentists on a medical mission trip. For many, it was the first time in their lives they had seen a doctor or a dentist. I met numerous babies and toddlers who were being seen by a doctor for the very first time since birth. I couldn’t help but look at my own daughter who had been born in a hospital, had a newborn hearing screening done before she was 24 hours old, and had already see her pediatrician at 1 week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 3 months, 6 months,  and 9 months old… and a baby her same age was seeing a visiting doctor for a 10 minute appointment for the first time ever.

I couldn’t help but look at my own daughter…

Years later we adopted our son Martin who has numerous health concerns and his country of origin had decided that he could get the medical care he needs in the United States so he was put on an international adoption list. After the adoption his hearing loss and vision loss were identified as well as a second blood disorder, a genetic disorder and a clotting disorder…and he wasn’t born in a developing country! My point being that sometimes in America we can live in our bubble and be unaware to the challenges that face the rest of the world. One of those challenges is being born deaf or with hearing loss in a developing country in poverty.  Our son was 2 1/2 when a sedated ABR was done confirming his hearing loss, and a few months later he was able to receive hearing aids. If he had stayed in his country of origin, or for the 25 million out there that we are trying to reach, the hearing loss ISN’T identified early, it ISN’T treated, it ISN’T monitored, it ISN’T anything. 

There are 32 million children (0-18) with hearing loss worldwide. 25 million of those children live in poverty in developing countries. That is quite the discrepancy, 8 million in developed or emerging countries and 25 million in developing countries. Think about that for a second.

The harsh reality is that most often a deaf child is judged harshly because they struggle to fit into the hearing world around them without any language. Sometimes this means they are abandoned, or neglected. It usually means they don’t attend school and they definitely don’t have full access and opportunity at school such as interpreters, IEP’s and accommodations. Families can do their best and still have very little or nothing to offer their Deaf child because there are no resources, no conversations, no awareness, no support.

So Deaf Child Hope International has set out to bring these deaf children hope. Hope comes in many forms.  It is overwhelming when we look at the statistics. I mean 25 million is the same as the population of Australia! The United States has 328 million residents though so it becomes more doable when we say, 13 % of the United States needs to know about this need and God will move hearts to be a part of the change. Anything is possible with God after all.