Early detection of infant hearing loss in South Africa

24 Jun 2009

Every day close to 2 000 babies are born with or acquire permanent bilateral hearing loss within the first few weeks of life, and at least 90% of them live in developing countries like South Africa. Infant hearing loss is undetectable by routine clinical examination, and if screening is not provided it is only identified after critical developmental periods for language acquisition have passed. The far-reaching effect of late identification is evident in poor linguistic, cognitive and socio-emotional development, which undermines literacy skills, academic achievement and ultimately educational and vocational outcomes. Fortunately infants with hearing loss have excellent outcomes, potentially matching those of their hearing peers, if the loss is identified early and intervention initiated by 6 - 9 months of age. For this reason screening programmes have been set up in countries such as the USA and UK, where more than 95% of all newborns are screened to ensure that those with hearing loss are given the opportunity to develop to their maximum potential alongside their hearing peers.