Quality but affordable hearing aids launched in the Philippines



By Rose de la Cruz


Canada’s earAccess, a social enterprise founded five years ago by Audra Renyi (who is also executive director of World Wide Hearing International) launched on Friday their affordable but high-quality hearings aids in the Philippine market, which like Canada also has a fast- growing hearing impairment predicament. At the launch, audiologists were on hand near the stage to conduct free media and public screening from 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. last Friday.


She founded earAccess as a social enterprise because she realizes—based on her experience with her dad and her auntie who suffered hearing disabilities at a very young age and for which she could feel their difficulty in coping with their loved ones with normal hearing capabilities-- how frustrating and isolating hearing-impaired people feel. Back then hearing aids were too pricey for many people. Worldwide, she said, the price of a hearing aid averages $2,500.


In her presentation, she quoted Helen Keller—a blind sufferer who rose above her limitation and came up with the braille reading system for the blind—saying: “Blindness separates man from things but deafness separates man from people.”


She excitedly told opinyon.com that the Philippines is her first market in Asia, which is also expanding so fast, because of a combination of abuse of technology (blaring headsets connected to the ears), the noise of traffic and several other lifestyle-related causes that lead to hearing loss.


Their hearing aids, which are priced between P13,000 and P16,000 for the lower grades reaches as high as P40,000 to P70,000 for the high-end market. But at the lower rates these are more affordable than the $2,500 hearing aids abroad and her foundation, World Wide Hearing has also been actively tapping the civic groups and NGOs dealing with poor people of the world to make these hearing aids available to the indigent people.


Renyi said that worldwide 1 billion people suffer from hearing loss (ranging from mild to profound) and are badly in need of hearing aids to be able to connect with the people around them.  The Philippines is no different. Hearing loss leads to emotional distress and worse, accidents on the roads because the hearing-impaired can’t relate to the sirens or alarms around them.


The company will make available the hearing aids through Watson’s outlets in SM North EDSA, SM Fairview, SM Manila, Robinson’s Manila and SM Megamall (where the launch was held at the lower ground floor).


Audiologists, or those who conduct auditory screening to determine hearing loss and what grade of hearing aid to recommend to patients, mostly coming from the University of Santo Tomas, were trained on the computerized screen tests by ear Access and ENT specialists of UST.


Dr. Norberto Martinez, who heads the UST ENT and audiology department, said that 8 percent of the 103 million Filipinos now are afflicted by hearing loss or impairment at varying stages.


The situation is aggravated by the lack of ENT doctors and audiologists to attend to those with hearing impairments. Currently, the ratio is 1 ENT doctor per 207,000 people and 1 Audiologist per 3 million people, Martinez said.


She said that hearing loss is growing at a fast pace in Canada—and elsewhere like the Philippines—among the youth because they are the ones who love donning heads phones on their ears at the loudest volume. For the elderly, hearing loss is mostly age-related but if not corrected with a hearing aid could lead to complications like early Alzheimer’s and other debilitating diseases.


In the Philippines World Wide Hearing partnered with several NGOs and the UST audiology group to ensure a broader base of hearing screening and distribute its hearing aids especially to hearing-impaired children to ensure they enjoy life’s opportunities for a long time.


In the first two years of the project, the non-profit organization worked with its existing partners to connect to the platform children and schools in Indigenous communities in Canada, Peru, Guatemala and the Philippines.


There are 1.3 billion people with hearing loss, of whom 360 million have disabling hearing loss.


Around 80 percent of all people with hearing loss live in developing countries and in remote, hard-to-reach places. In many low-income countries there are few audiologists. Countries like the Honduras does not even have any audiologist.


Over 100 million children with hearing loss have limited or no access to audiology, speech therapy and rehabilitation. In the Inuit territory of Nunavut, Canada, there is only one full-time audiologist for a population living over a vast geographical expanse, despite having some of the highest rates of child hearing loss in the world.


World Wide Hearing is developing a ground-breaking technology platform to address hearing loss: the Teleaudiology Cloud, a turnkey solution consisting of an open-access, cloud-based hearing loss platform. The Teleaudiology Cloud will enable audiologists and speech therapists to provide remote diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for hearing loss to children and youth within countries and across countries. The solution is tailored specifically to remote communities with limited or unreliable internet connectivity. Parents of children with hearing loss will also benefit from the technology as they will receive counselling, education and access to online peer groups.


World Wide Hearing of Quebec, an NGO, provides access to affordable hearing aids to children and youth in developing countries and underserved communities. For this, it became one of 10 finalists in the Google.org Impact Challenge/Canada for a $750,000 grant in 2017. Google.org is Google’s philanthropic arm that provides grants and support to non-profits. Google.org powers the Impact Challenges in regions around the globe.


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