app-based hearing screenings for 10'000 children
One of South Africa’s biggest problems is still the huge gap between rich and poor. In order to make hearing care accessible for people on low incomes, the Hear the World Foundation is working closely with the start-up HearX by mHealth Studio, which offers an app for hearing screenings. With the help of local partners, 10,000 children are to have their hearing tested by the start of 2019.
Place & Year
Project PartnersmHealth Studio
In South Africa, hearing screenings for schoolchildren have been required by law since 2012, so that hearing loss can be detected and treated in good time. This is because children with untreated hearing loss have difficulties learning to speak and little chance of getting a school education. Implementation has proved impossible in many regions though, where audiological equipment and trained experts are hard to come by. South Africa has an average of 2.4 audiologists per 100,000 residents – compared to Great Britain’s average of 16.4.
The South African start-up HearX by mHealth Studio is striving to improve this situation: its app hearScreen, developed at the University of Pretoria, is designed to make hearing screenings as simple as possible. What makes it so special, is that it allows tests to be carried out without any bulky equipment or knowledge of audiology. This not only makes it easier to access hearing care, it also reduces screening costs by 50 to 70 percent.
Screening in South Africa's Townships
The Hear the World Foundation is supporting this project by providing funds and hearing aids. The app has been in use in two particularly low-income South African townships since July 2017: Tembisa, near Johannesburg, with around 0.5 million inhabitants, and Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, with around 2.5 million inhabitants. The project is also partnered by the University of Pretoria and the Carel du Toit Centre – a paediatric audiology centre that is based in Cape Town and also supported by the Hear the World Foundation. The hearing of 10,000 children in total is to be screened by the start of 2019.
Screening by locals - no audiological knowledge needed
The hearing tests are carried out by locals. This is advantageous because it means they know how to look after themselves in the sometimes dangerous regions and they understand the various African languages. For most of them, it is also a way out of unemployment. After one short training session, they can already carry out the screenings themselves without any prior knowledge, just using the app and headphones. Afterwards, the results are uploaded to the cloud, so they can be analysed further.
Generally, the screenings only make sense if combined with the necessary hearing care, so the project team is also intensively involved in arranging subsequent care. If a child is found to have a problem, a more intensive test is carried out with the hearScreen app, then he or she is referred to a local audiologist. Although a state healthcare programme provides any necessary hearing aids, it can happen that none is available right away, so in the meantime, project partners lend hearing aids, which get calibrated immediately. This ensures that the children are helped as soon as possible.
Sustainable solution for children and communities
Stefan Launer, Vice President of Science & Technology at Sonova and his son, spent around two weeks as Hear the World volunteers in South Africa. Together with local partners, they were able to screen about 50 children a day. Alongside the thorough preparation and planning of the project, he was impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm, with which all participants went about their work.
Research for the future
Aiming for long-term success beyond the two regions mentioned, the Carel du Toit team, in cooperation with Prof. De Wet Swanepol from the University of Pretoria, are also systematically gathering research results from the project. They hope this will enable them to convince the South African government of the project’s importance, and of the major role it can play in helping to achieve age-appropriate child development.