The Aga Khan Hospital Dar es Salaam (AKH,D) performed its first Cochlear Implant Surgery on 24th January 2022. Young Danial, a 3-year-old boy has not heard sound all of his life. This procedure is a life-changing opportunity for the young boy and his parents.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that enables individuals with profound hearing loss to hear through direct stimulation of the hearing nerve. As of now, hearing is the only sense that can be ‘restored’ in this way. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 430 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, a number that is predicted to grow exponentially over time.
Hearing loss has a variety of causes, some can be prevented, and others can be treated. The severity of hearing loss also differs from one person to another.
Hearing loss in children results in delayed development of speech and language. This results in adverse effects on the child’s education, social life and cognitive development. Hearing aids are one way of managing hearing loss, however, in cases where hearing aids do not provide the expected benefit; such in the case of a profound hearing loss, cochlear implants are the preferred option.
“We are very excited to begin performing this procedure here at AKH,D. The availability of this procedure locally means that patients will not have to travel abroad for this service. We are also looking forward to seeing patients from other countries come here specifically for this. We can assure them the most cost-effective and highest quality services right here, in Dar es Salaam”, said Mr. Sisawo Konteh, (Chief Executive Officer).
When asked about the cost of the procedure, Mr. Konteh indicated that packages for cochlear implantation, including the cost of the implant and the cost of surgery are cheaper at AKH,D than they are abroad. “The cost of this surgery in Tanzania is about half of what one would pay abroad”, he said.
“Starting this procedure here is a great step in increasing the capacity of ear and hearing care services in the country”, explained Dr. Christopher Mwansasu, ENT Surgeon at AKH,D. “Our goal is to increase access to services for the diagnosis and management of ear-related problems within Tanzania, and we have been focusing on developing our ENT, Audiology and Speech Therapy services with exactly this in mind.”
Aside from this procedure, the Aga Khan Hospital has also been piloting a newborn hearing screening program since 2018. This involves the use of a quick and simple test to screen babies for hearing loss, usually performed very shortly after birth. “It is now time to expand this service and make it available for all parents who would like their babies to be screened”, said Mr. Konteh.
“Early identification and intervention is very important. If we can screen and diagnose the hearing loss shortly after birth we can greatly reduce its consequences”, explained Ms. Rashida Hassuji, the Speech-Language Pathologist at AKH,D. “A large number of children with hearing loss are only being seen after the age of three, which means that even after the appropriate intervention, a lot of extra work needs to be done to achieve normal speech and language development. The earlier we can intervene in these cases, the better the outcomes are for these children” she added.
Mr. Ali Jaffer, the clinical audiologist at AKH,D, informed us that after the surgery there will be a 3 week wait before the external processor is fitted to the child and programmed, and it will be the first time the child will hear. What will follow next will be continuous monitoring to set the levels of the device appropriately and speech therapy for at least two years for the child to catch up with age-appropriate speech and language. “The aim is to ensure that the child lives a normal life like his hearing peers and goes to a mainstream school. With the implant, the possibilities are endless and the child can pursue the life they dream of”, he said.
“We have a great ENT, Audiology, and Speech Therapy team and we are excited to expand our service offerings in these areas to ensure our patients receive the best professional care at our facility” concluded Mr. Konteh.
This procedure is available in Tanzania is a more affordable and convenient option for Tanzanian patients with hearing loss. AKH,D wishes to be an accessible solution for persons with hearing loss in the region.