Individually or combined, malaria and malaria medication can result in disabling hearing loss.
This is according to Director of Global Health and Research for the Starkey Hearing Foundation, Dr. Luqman Lawal. The Starkey Hearing Foundation which is located in Minnesota, United States, is an organisation that has been involved in the provision of hearing aids to people on a global scale.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over five percent of the world’s population, or 360 million people, have disabling hearing loss. This translates to 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 WHO has noted, too, that the majority of people with disabling hearing loss live in low and middle income countries.
While there are several reasons that have been known to cause hearing loss, Dr. Lawal, during an interview with this publication, said that malaria, a disease that Guyana has been battling for years, has been linked to this condition.
But according to Dr. Lawal, “when you come to Guyana and developing countries you find that some patients will not be able to distinguish between the medication and malaria itself…[this means] that if some of the patients have malaria, they wouldn’t know whether it is the malaria or medication [they use],” Dr. Lawal noted.
He made reference to countries that are known to use quinine as its anti-malarial treatment which, according to him, essentially predisposes patients to hearing loss. Quinine, according to Dr. Lawal, is an ototoxic drug.
Ototoxcity is the property of being toxic to the ear [oto], specifically the cochlea or auditory nerve, and sometimes the vestibular system. According to research, this occurs as a side effect of drugs such as quinine. The effects of ototoxicity can be reversible and temporary or irreversible and permanent.
A vector control official yesterday confirmed that Guyana has over the years used quinine, and continues to do so, to treat certain cases of malaria.
But according to Dr. Lawal, “we always advocate for countries not to use this kind of medication to treat complex malaria cases.”
In addition to malaria medication, there are types of malaria that have been known to cause hearing loss too. Dr. Lawal spoke of cerebral malaria which he described as “malaria that has gone to the brain.”
Cerebral malaria is the most severe neurological complication of infection with Plasmodium Falciparum malaria. This type of malaria is a clinical syndrome characterized by coma and asexual forms of the parasite on peripheral blood smears.
According to Dr. Lawal, cerebral malaria has been known to also affect the part of the brain that deals with hearing. It is recommended that this condition be treated with quinine.
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