Close to 500 Guyanese are poised to be recipients of hearing aids compliments of the Starkey Hearing Foundation based in the United States. In this regard, several persons were yesterday exposed to an ear screening session in the
auditorium of the Sophia Exhibition Complex.
The screening session will continue today and within a matter of months those eligible for hearing aids will be furnished with custom made hearing aids to address their respective hearing loss.
The parent company of The Starkey Hearing Foundation is Starkey Hearing Technologies which is the largest producer of hearing aids in the US. In fact it is one of the top six producers of hearing aids in the world.
“We have generous funding from Starkey Hearing Technologies which donates most of the hearing aids we use…other philanthropic people in the US and [from] around the world also donate to the organisation,” said Starkey Foundation Director, Dr. Luqman Lawal.
But according to Dr. Lawal, the Foundation is always soliciting continued support in order to further expand the provision of hearing aids globally. Starkey has thus far been able to lend its support to more than 50 low and middle income countries.
“We have been doing a lot of partnership,” he said as he revealed “here in Guyana we have been working with the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, and we work with local volunteers from the Ministry of Public Health and the office of the First Lady [Mrs Sandra Granger]…This has been extremely helpful to us because they understand the culture, they understand the politics, they understand the economics and they have been helping us to navigate the system,” Dr. Lawal revealed.
Starkey’s support to Guyana, he related, was influenced by Mrs Granger and Dr. Zulfikar Bux, Head of the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). While a meeting between Dr. Lawal and the First Lady occurred while she was at the United Nations headquarters in New York, his meeting with Dr. Bux occurred at the Harvard School of Public Health, where the latter was completing and upgrading programme.
“All decisions came in line and we decided to come to Guyana in June 2016 and we did a major regional training in Guyana…this training was for community-based health workers including audio techs, audiologists…as well as other public health professionals,” according to Dr. Lawal.
He explained that the Foundation operates on a three-fold basis, whereby it deals with service delivery, education and training, as well as research and advocacy.
Just last year the organisation rendered its assistance to Peru, another South American territory. On that occasion some 18,000 patients were catered to. But offering hearing aid support, according to Dr. Lawal, is determined by the size of the population and the existing needs.
Here in Guyana, he noted, some 500 to 600 patients of the 750,000 population were found to will be eligible for screening for hearing aids based on the organisation’s collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health.
Although patients were specifically contacted to be a part of the ongoing screening exercise, Dr. Lawal assured that “all patients who come through our door and we identify that they have hearing loss, we will be providing one or two hearing aids for you.”
The screening of the patients represent phase one of the collaboration, but the actual provision of the hearing aids will represent phase two. This will be followed by a third phase which, according to Dr. Lawal, will be characterised by continuing assistance to Guyana.
A single hearing aid provided by Starkey is valued at some $65,000. But this cost, according to Dr. Lawal, is outside of the cost of the battery, the expertise of the professionals who will be fitting the hearing aids and aspects such as maintenance.
“In the long run, for you to maintain your hearing aid for one year it will be about $150,000 to $200,000 [or more] and many of these patients will need two hearing aids, so we are looking at nearly $500,000 for a pair of hearing aids and maintaining them,” explained Dr. Lawal, as he pointed out that the Starkey Foundation will be essentially saving Guyana the cost of undertaking such a venture on its own.
“We are saving people who cannot afford these hearing aids: people the government would’ve paid for them to have hearing aids…”
”We are offering this free of cost and not just giving the hearing aid, we are working to train the local capacity so that they can follow up continuously on these patients. If they [patients] have a problem with batteries, they will be provided with free batteries, if they have problems with troubleshooting the hearing aids, they [local technicians] will be able to fix it for them and if the local people are unable to fix the problem they can send it to us in the US and we will fix them and bring them back,” Dr. Lawal asserted.
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