The challenge ahead
Just for one moment, imagine that you are a very young child. You can see people’s lips moving when they look at you. They seem to expect a reaction but you have no idea what you’re supposed to do. You struggle to convey your basic needs: hunger, thirst, tiredness…but no one seems to understand. Sometimes they get angry with you, which feels unfair. You know you are different but you don’t know why. You feel increasingly frustrated, anxious and isolated.
How this story unfolds for the 32 million children worldwide who have a disabling hearing problem is heavily dependent on what health services are available to them. If there is no auditory screening, their impairment may not be detected for two to three years, or longer if it’s mistaken for a cognitive impairment. This delays their speech and language development and has wide-ranging social consequences, reducing and sometimes preventing communication with family, peers and the wider community. This often results in social isolation and even stigma. If they are unable to attend a mainstream school, they may not even receive a rudimentary education. Consequently, they will not have the same earning potential and career opportunities as their peers. They may not be able to work at all, remaining financially dependent on others. Besides the negative psychological and social implications for them and their families, their economic contribution to their country will also be limited.