Ahead of the World Hearing Day (WHD) on March 3, 2016, a graduate of public health from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the Country Director for International Centre for Prevention of Deafness and Rehabilitation of Persons with Hearing Impairment (ICPDRPHI), Dr. Audu Eneche, told journalists that his organisation has partnered with the MTN Foundation to reduce the impact of hearing impairment and to boost the activities of the disability support programme in Nigeria.
World Hearing Day is an annual advocacy event held on March 3 every year. Designated at the First International Conference on Prevention and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impairment in Beijing, China in 2007, the day aims to raise awareness and promote ear and hearing care across the world.
The theme for World Hearing Day 2016 is ‘Childhood hearing loss: act now, here is how!’ This aims to draw attention to the fact that the majority of causes, which lead to hearing loss in children, can be prevented through public health measures.
Eneche said working with a German organisation and the National Health Care, using the World Health Organisation (WHO) protocol, the prevalence rate for deafness in Nigeria is about 6.7 per cent of the population. “It is quite high, because it shows we have millions with hearing impairment in the country,” he said.
According to the WHO, over five per cent of the world’s population – 360 million people – has disabling hearing loss (328 million adults and 32 million children). Disabling hearing loss refers to hearing loss greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear in adults and a hearing loss greater than 30 dB in the better hearing ear in children. The majority of people with disabling hearing loss live in low- and middle-income countries.
Managing the challenges
Eneche explained: “I have been in the area of deafness since 2001 and understanding the deaf community is part of what I have lived with for quite some time. The deaf person is usually considered an aggressive person. As a deaf, you cannot express yourself for people to understand you; you have a lot of issues to present to the public, even to your family and you are not been easily understood.
“For instance, in a meeting where you have the deaf and the blind, the deaf man is like to be left out in the conversation while the blind man can actively participate because he can hear what others are saying and make contributions. Most times, no one has the patience to do sign language to assist the deaf person; hence, he cannot contribute meaningfully. The deaf person is cut off and isolated from the basic unit of the society, which is the family. Because of this, you notice that they are bottled up with emotions that are negative.
“Another challenge is that the deaf are been considered as idiots in the society, because they just keep going without any substance. It is quite unfortunate that this perception exists.
“However, concerning the programme for the deaf and presently operated with the MTN Foundation, a major challenge is information dissemination. For instance, when forms are out for our programmes, we try to communicate with the deaf to inform them about the locations where they can access the forms. Unfortunately, since they cannot hear, someone must hear for them and that is a major challenge.
“Also, the lukewarm attitude of some government agencies who ought to be our partners in reaching out to the deaf is not helping matters. The bureaucratic bottleneck is chocking. Because of this challenge, we have created two channels of distribution- the government agencies and the non-governmental agencies. We have also reduce adverts is the newspapers because it has not really yielded the desired results due to the high level of illiteracy among our target audience.”
On the partnership with MTN Foundation, her said: “Initially we were working in the background with an existing partner and not as a direct partner of MTN Foundation. Subsequently, we were engaged as partner with the Foundation after five years of working with the other partners. I believe our full engagement was in recognition of our contribution on the programme.
“It has being a smooth working relationship particularly for the hearing impaired. So far, a lot of persons with hearing impairment have benefitted from this project. We believe this is a very good project that should continue. With the MTN Foundation, we have been able to improving the quality of lives of persons with disability.”
Over view of intervention programmes with MTN Foundation
The public health physician said: “Our organization is for prevention of deafness and rehabilitation of the hearing impaired. In terms of rehabilitation, you must consider the health factors, which include the cause of the hearing loss and the treatment. After treatment, we then consider if there will be need for a hearing aid or not. Our team comprises doctors who are specialist in ear, nose and throat treatment. During our programmes, the doctors conduct comprehensive tests on the persons and determine what level of intervention will be required to assist and rehabilitate the individuals.
“The intervention may be the prescription of drugs, surgery or the provision of hearing aids. With these interventions, these affected individuals are reintegrated back into the society.
“Aside, this we provide counseling for the affected individuals and their families; for the younger ones who are profoundly deaf, we offer special education that help them in fitting into the society because they may not be able to attend regular schools even with a hearing aid. We use the American Sign Language to teach and communicate with our members. We also import books on sign language such as the Joy of Signing, which we have widely used and distributed across states in Nigeria.”
Eneche said one experience that really touched his heart is that of a deaf pastor who visited a hospital in Jos. He explained:
“After testing him with a hearing aid, he could hear the sound within his vicinity that hitherto he could not hear. He got really excited. Despite been told that the hearing aid is for those who can use it to hear and speak, the pastor insisted that he wanted the hearing aid. According to him, he felt like someone who was resurrected the dead because he could hear sound even if they do not make meaning to him….”
Eneche said his group appreciates the support of the MTN Foundation for their leadership role in bringing relative succor to the disabled in the society.
The paradigm shift in prevention and rehabilitation of the deaf with MTN foundation
Eneche said MTN Foundation has being the only known body that has come out to really help persons with hearing impairment to be reintegrated back into the society and have better quality of life. He said the input has brought a paradigm shift, which is positively changing the narratives about hearing impairment in Nigeria.
The public health expert said in the first five phases of the disability support project, MTN Foundation has given out 1,500 hearing aids. “We are presently on the sixth phase and the Foundation is planning to give out double of what they have donated in the past five years,” he said.
Implications of Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) fine on MTN Foundation activities
Eneche said: “Corporate social responsibility (CSR) for any business is very important because it is a way to give back to the society. It is very important that every corporate organisation looks back into the community that sustains them and then gives back to the people.
“For me, MTN should continue with their CSR as they engage in dialogue. Yes, the fine is huge but we hope that the government and MTN will come to the same understanding. The Nigeria society should also understand that over the years no organization has done what MTN has done for this country. The hearing aid support project by MTN Foundation is not a gimmick and I am very sure MTN is not carrying out these activities to get sympathy from Nigerians. Before the fine, the MTN Foundation has truthful to their promises. I sincerely hope both parties can amicably reconcile the issue.”
Advice for Nigerians, the deaf and their families
Eneche said: “For those that are not deaf, I will advice that they take care of their ears because they may not know how important it is until they lose it. For parents and families that have deaf persons, please be patient with them because it may be very challenging.”