Thanks to science and technology, newborn screenings have allowed us to know whether our baby may be suffering from a congenital disorder just a few days into his life. A recent study has found, however, that an important newborn screening, the hearing test, is not being performed for newborns, and it happens often that doctors have begun to call it the “hidden disease.”
Recent research from Ruhr University Bochum by Dr. Katrin Neumann, head of the department of phoniatrics and pedaudiology at the St. Elisabeth Hospital in Germany, in collaboration with an international team of colleagues, compiled data regarding infant hearing screenings from more than 151 countries. They found that only 50% of countries who have responded have hearing tests for infants. “In specialist circles, hearing impairments are often referred to as the hidden disease, because the disorder attracts only little attention,” said Neumann.
They also found that hearing impairments in babies are more common in underdeveloped countries, and is also higher in number than expected. Almost all the countries in the Southeast Asian region, in particular, have made no serious effort to set up newborn and infant hearing screening programs, according to a report by the World Health Organization. Thankfully, this does not include the Philippines.
In 2009, a Philippine law was passed providing mandatory hearing screenings to all newborns. R.A. 9709 or the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention Act required that every infant born in a hospital needs to have a hearing test before he can be discharged. Those born outside of a hospital should be screened within the first three months of his life.
“Under the law, the goal is to screen the child below the age of one month and to be able to repeat the screening before the age of 3 months if the initial test failed for proper diagnosis of hearing loss,” said Dr. Charlotte Chiong, director of the Newborn Hearing Screening Reference Center (NHRSC) in a press release from the University of the Philippines Manila.
“If [he tested] positive, we should be able to put the amplification tool or hearing aid before the age of 6 months. This would optimize the possibility of the child developing some language despite the presence of severe hearing loss,” she added. The earlier the intervention, she says, the higher the likelihood that a child will be able to speak.
Newborn hearing screenings can immediately bring to light any possible inborn hearing impairments the baby may have. Without immediate intervention in babies 6 months old and below, it can cause language delay and lowered levels of speech comprehension and speech development. Chiong adds, “Of 180 implantation cases I had done over the past 15 years, it was noted that the cause of deafness in 50% of the cases were preventable, 32% with rubella, while others had meningitis, infection, otitis media, and ototoxicity. If we increase awareness, 50% of such cases can be prevented by immunization or other primary preventive measures.”
Eight babies are born with a profound hearing impairment everyday in the Philippines. That's one deaf baby every three hours, as shown by a study conducted by Chiong.
Newborn hearing screenings are done in local health care institutions with accredited newborn hearing screening centers and by trained health workers. The screening costs around P300 with P200 being shouldered by PhilHealth.
The newborn hearing screening shouldn’t be the only test your newborn gets. Ask your hospital for information about the Expanded Newborn Screening. See a list of all health facilities that offer it here. Learn more about newborn screening in the Philippines by visiting Newbornscreening.ph.
Sources: March 2, 2016. "Hearing screening for newborn infants: Developing countries lag behind" (sciencedaily.com) Undated. "Hearing intervention critical before 6 months of age" (upm.edu.ph) 2010. "Newborn and infant hearing screening" (who.int)