Hearing care for all

There is one special shining light that helps us to focus on what is an emergent and effective strategy in our national policies concerning people with disabilities and special needs – equality. With that in mind, there have been some remarkable breakthroughs in the past few years but we have every intention of further guiding Maltese society towards new and more specific achievements.

The National Strategy for the Rights of Child Screening is one such endeavour actually in hand as we make sure there are no discrepancies in services, treatments and provisions to the various sectors of our population that need them.

Last Wednesday, I was proud to watch my colleague, Alex Agius Saliba, who is the prime and motivated mover on the issue of early detection and early intervention and awareness at the European level, hosting the virtual annual Lunch Debate in the European Parliament to celebrate ‘World Hearing Day’, entitled ‘Hearing Care for All’. It was, if any was needed, testament to his committed campaign to instil the value of social equality and inclusion also within European society.

The conglomeration in Brussels of several European associations of hard of hearing people, hearing aid professionals and hearing aid manufacturers, together with Shelly Chadha, from the World Health Organisation, and other protagonists was a manifestation of an excellent European ideal that is strongly taking root across the continent for the benefit of those citizens, of all ages and backgrounds, with hearing difficulties and impairments.

National efforts such as ours can be a very important gauge in turning this noble mission into a pan-European model for the rest of the world. In Malta, for example, with about 1.4 per cent of the population with hearing problems of varying degrees, we have embarked on various successful projects, among them the new audiology department within the island’s major general hospital, the commencement of the Maltese cochlear implant programme and the official registration of the profession of audiology with the Council for Professions Complementary to Medicine Menu.

No less effectual is the free provision of cochlear implants to all those in the Maltese population who require them, both ears for children and one ear in the case of adults.

The work on the National Strategy for the Rights of Child Screening is gaining momentum as we seek to provide access to screening programmes on a par with hearing peers, including caregivers who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. The attendance of language interpreters during the administration of a child-screening programme ensures that deaf children and/or caregivers requiring such a service can have complete access to information about any aspect of a child’s well-being.

The strategy also addresses the importance of referring children diagnosed with a hearing impairment to organisations run by deaf people for instant support and the value of a positive approach on the part of professionals in their non-discriminatory treatment of child patients.

The issue of equal rights for deaf people of all ages in having access to information and support, whether mainstream or impairment-related, is another key guideline in our strongly emergent strategy. In collaboration with Agius Saliba inside the European Parliament, this is a pilot project that we dearly would love to see completed and approved through all legislative channels.

It is calculated that no less than 22.6 million European citizens have untreated hearing loss, possibly because they are not encouraged to check their hearing early in life. It is a reality which is impacting the EU by about €185 million annually.

This is not, however, an economic dilemma but a sociopolitical prerequisite worthy of sustained commitment. Pretty much what we have strictly kept in focus thus far in the project as we continue to establish a worthy national strategy.