ENT specialists decry lack of expertise in ear care in Nigeria
•Say five out of 100 children born in Nigeria have significant hearing impairment
•Urge govt to waive customs duty on importation of hearing devices, subsidise treatment as done in South Africa, others
Stakeholders have bemoaned inadequate expertise in ear care, saying the country has very few Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists serving more than one million Nigerians against the World Health Organisation (WHO) prescription of one ENT to 160 patients.
President, Otorhinolaryngological Society of Nigeria (ORLSON), Dr. Biodun Olusesi; Chief Executive Officer (CEO) BSA Hearing and Speech Centre, Dr. Simeon Afolabi; and Australian Ambassador to Nigeria, John Donnelly, said the government, through health reform programmes, should consider ways to improve the sector.
They spoke at a programme to give an update on the ear implant/company, Cochlear, in Nigeria and the product pre-launch in Lagos.
Olusesi, who is the Head of Department, ENT, at the National Hospital, Abuja, disclosed that five out of 100 children born in Nigeria have significant hearing impairment.
He said the cost of cochlear implantation can be reduced if government decides to waive customs duty on importation of the medical device or give subsidy on the treatment as done in some countries like South Africa. He said: “For the past 15 years, in my clinic, out of every 10 hearing impaired children presented, three would have causes that can be treated using just hearing aid.
“Then another three, these are the ones that have discharging ears. They have an improvement when you do surgery for them. Then the remaining 10 are the ones that have a very severe type of hearing impairment that cannot be helped by hearing aid. They are the ones that can be helped by cochlear implantation.
“So, where the limit of hearing aid stops, that is where the cochlear implantation begins. So, cochlear implantation is not meant for everybody. Even for those that have severe to profound hearing loss, the cochlear implant is only recommended if we satisfy ourselves during investigation that this child has a nerve of hearing because some children are born with that nerve of hearing. That is to simply tell you that it is not every child that is a candidate for cochlear implantation. It is for those that are born with hearing nerves, yet unable to talk.
“So, what the cochlear implant does is just to replace the functions of ear cells that God has positioned inside our ear that translate the movement of ear drums and the bones of the ear into electrical activity which goes to the brain and enables us to hear.”
Australian Ambassador to Nigeria, John Donnelly, said the Cochlear Company founded 40 years ago has developed technologies to address the problem of hearing for children and adults.
He stated that Cochlear has provided these implants to over 600,000 people in over 100 countries.
Donnelly also noted that the cost of the implant could be reduced with a waiver on some of the taxes paid on importation of the device to Nigeria. He noted that this would go a long way in assisting doctors committed to improving the hearing of Nigerians.
“There is a cost-sharing model used in South Africa where the health system pays some percentage for the device and the individual also pays for it,” he said.
Regional Director, Cochlear Middle East and Africa, Alain Yazbeck, said the firm would continue to support the Nigerian cochlear implant community to bring the gift of hearing to children across the country. He said Cochlear has trained 285 professionals in Nigeria in 30 courses spread across three hospitals where the implant is carried out.
A Cochlear distributor and General Secretary, Speech Pathologist and Audiological Association of Nigeria (SPAAN), Dr. Simeon Afolabi, said, “The cost of implant is too expensive because too many things go into the identification of candidates. We urge the government at all levels, churches, mosques and non-governmental organisations to help more people by sponsoring their surgeries.”