Health statistics show that at least three percent of school going children have hearing problems while 24 percent of people with life style diseases and 50 percent those working in mining sites and textile industries have hearing problems as well, said the minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu.
Speaking at the launching here, the minister said the government has made a number of efforts to being about a significant reduction in the number of people with ear and hearing problems.
This has been made possible through improvement in screening and diagnostic services in community health centres, schools and places of work in order to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment of those affected.
Minister Mwalimu noted that in the past ten years the government managed to increase the number of Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists four-folds, from 11 in 2009 to 46 in past year.
“The number is quite small considering the population of our country but the government is doing all it takes to improve the service,” she said, directing the relevant ministerial department to ensure services reach district levels within six months.
She said the government is supporting the experts to conduct advanced surgeries on repairing hearing defects including cochlear implants, at the Muhimbili National Hospital.
Mwalimu highlighted the single procedure where the government subsidizes around 35m/- as initial cost for installation of cochlear implant on children under five years of age with profound hearing loss.
In the past two years local experts managed to attend 23 children and there are more than 100 on the waiting list for the service, she stated.
“We look forward to expand these services in other specialized hospitals and improve on preventive services which are cheap and easy to manage even at household level,” she stated.
About 60 per cent of causes of ear and hearing problems are preventable at no cost, while the remaining 40 per cent may need expert management, she further noted.
Chronic ear infections, use of medicines especially antibiotics with auto toxic effects without consulting physicians, mechanical injuries to the ear drum by inserting instruments or excessive noisy pollution for instance in industries and the use of earphones were the key reasons for ear and hearing problems, she said .
Tanzania has so far three audiologists (hearing experts) and three speech and language defect specialists, she remarked.
“It is my sincere hope that through this partnership with the Starkey Foundation for Ear and Hearing Care we will work on these challenges and come out victorious as one team,” she told the gathering.
Dr Bill Austin from the Starkey Foundation for Ear and Hearing Care underlined the need to address ear and hearing lossas early as possible.
Minister Mwalimu asserted that the strategy has come at the right time given the increasing number of people diagnosed with hearing problems due to increased exposure to risk factors attributed by rapid urbanization, industrialization and a rise in non communicable diseases.
Establishing the extent of ear and hearing problems especially in communities has been challenging due to inconsistency and limited resources to conduct population-based surveys, she said.
However, in some selected studies in different settings, it has been shown that almost three per cent of school children in primary schools have different degrees of hearing problems.
Ear and hearing problems compromise significantly the quality of life and it affects more children in their developmental ages, as the damage resulting from hearing problems affect learning, hence affecting their level of functions in all domains of life including academic, social and occupational skills.
For her part, the Director of Curative Services in the ministry, Dr Grace Magembe said the unit aims at early hearing disability interventions and expanding the services at lower health facilities where the majority are found.