File picture: AP
Cape Town – It is estimated that between four and six in every 1 000 babies born in South Africa will be born with or develop hearing loss in their first weeks of life.

Netcare is trying to mitigate this by offering hearing screening for all babies born at their hospital.

The national programme is the first initiative of its kind in South Africa and hopes to identify hearing loss in infants as early as possible so that it can be addressed and as far as possible prevented from impacting these babies’ development.

Netcare hospital division managing director Jacques du Plessis said the statistics at a national level represented a considerable number of affected children and families.

Du Plessis said Netcare had entered into a preferred provider arrangement with the South African Association of Audiologists (SAAA), a professional association for audiologists, to ensure that all neonates born at Netcare facilities will have their hearing screened by qualified audiologists.

The cost of the specialised screening will be covered as part of Netcare’s Maternity Passport offering.

The national co-ordinator of the mother and baby wellness clinics located at selected Netcare hospitals, Sharlene Swart, said: “Netcare’s path-finding national hearing screening programme has been introduced so that babies can benefit from the specialised screening necessary to detect and diagnose hearing loss in the first weeks of their lives.

"Made possible by Netcare’s collaboration with the SAAA and the non-profit organisation HI Hopes, this initiative aims to assist in tackling the challenge of hearing loss in our children.”

Swart added: “The government has emphasised the importance of the early detection and intervention in infant hearing impairment and we hope that this initiative can serve as a model for other similar co-operative arrangements within the healthcare sector nationally.”

SAAA national chairperson and World Congress of Audiology 2018 organising committee chairperson Dr Susan Strauss said it was a privilege for the SAAA and its audiologists to be collaborating with Netcare to deliver the new infant screening programme.

“If hearing impairments are detected as soon as possible after birth they can then be addressed before they impact a child’s development, giving them the best possible start in life.

"Fortunately, today’s specialised hearing screening tests make it possible to detect hearing problems in the very first days of a baby’s life.

“It is all about early access to critical hearing services for babies with disabling hearing loss and meaningfully improved outcomes for these children.

"This Netcare initiative to have newborns screened by audiologists will make timeous treatment for hearing impairments possible and no doubt enhance the quality of lives of thousands of South African children in the future,” Strauss said.

Cape Times