Reducing Hearing Disability in Nigeria


L-R: Country Director, International Center for Prevention of Deafness and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impaired Persons (ICPDRHIP), Mr. Eneche Audu; Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Ms. Nonny Ugbom, and Consultant ENT, Neck and Head Surgeon, National Hospital Abuja, Dr. Job Amodu at the inspection of hearing aids provided by MTN Foundation in Lagos …recently

With over 12 million Nigerians said to be suffering from various forms of hearing disabilities in the country, Martins Ifijeh writes on the role of MTN Foundation in tackling the scourge

It is no longer news that about five per cent of the world population are suffering from one form of hearing disability or the other, representing about360 million people across the globe, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). What seems to be the news is that this number is predicted to increase in the coming years, especially in low and middle income countries like Nigeria where there are no significant approaches and will power to tackle the scourge.

Recently, according to the Chief Executive Officer of International Centre for the Prevention of Deafness and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impaired Persons (ICPDRHIP), Dr. Audu Eneche, about 6.7 per cent of Nigerians were suffering from hearing disability, meaning that of the country’s 180 million persons, over 12 million of them were either deaf or going deaf in the country.

But with millions of Nigerians suffering from the scourge, one then wonders why there is still much gap in tackling the disability through awareness on its prevention, treatment and management.

It is in addressing this gap across the country that MTN Foundation, through its Hearing Aid Support Project (HASP) is set to distribute over 1,500 hearing aid devices in the six geo-political zones of the country, thereby giving life back to those who are unable to hear.

Beneficiary states of the sixth phase of the project are Akwa Ibom, Benue, Lagos, Bauchi, Katsina and Anambra.

According to the Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Ms. Nonny Ugboma, the project was birthed to compliment government’s efforts to help restore hearing to people with hearing disabilities across Nigeria, adding that they will continue to be committed to the inclusion of hearing impaired people into the society, which in turn will enhance their participation in social and economic activities in the country.

While narrating the importance of paying attention to solving hearing problems in the country, Eneche, whose organisation partnered with MTN Foundation to provide the hearing aids to affected Nigerians, explained that stories of people with disabilities suggest that they were not the only ones affected by the scourge, but people around them as well, thereby increasing the burden of the disability to several millions of persons.

Explaining, he said, ‘’there was an experience of a couple, both of whom were deaf. The lady, while receiving her hearing aid explained that one day, while she was cooking, she parboiled rice and poured the water in a bowl. Her little child crawled to the water and dipped her two hands into the hot water. Unfortunately, the child did not have the reflex to pull out her hands from the hot water. Both hands totally got burnt and were amputated. Only if the mother could hear the sound of her daughters cry, may be the story could have been different,” adding that the woman’s disability had in turn affected the daughter who is now without hands.

He noted that in one of the places where the hearing aids assessment was done, they met a 15-year-old girl in Gombe who was deaf and blind. “In her case, she is a human being trapped in her own body, a prisoner of herself because there is no sight, nor sound. How then do you express yourself? How do you say I want to eat or play? You just sit, wait for your food, go to the toilet and then sleep. It is a very difficult and unpleasing life to live, the life of the deaf and blind,” he said.

Speaking further, he said, “another experience that really touched my heart is that of a deaf pastor who visited a hospital in Jos. After testing him with a hearing aid, he could hear the sound within his vicinity that hitherto he could not hear. He got really excited. Despite being told that the hearing aid is for those who can use it to hear and speak, the pastor insisted that he wanted the hearing aid. According to him, he felt like someone who was resurrected from the dead because he could hear sound even if they do not make meaning to him,” he noted.

He explained that there were millions of Nigerians suffering due to hearing loss but unable to provide solutions for themselves due to financial constraints or lack of awareness on what to do to manage the situation. Adding that, the hearing aid project will help in no small measure to tackle such.

But how can hearing loss be prevented, especially in a country where there are no specific policies to tackle the disability? He explained that in terms of rehabilitation, one must consider the health factors which include the cause of the hearing loss and the treatment.

“After treatment, we then consider if there will be need for a hearing aid or not. Our team comprises doctors who are specialists in ear, nose and throat treatment. During our programmes, the doctors conduct comprehensive tests on the persons and determine what level of intervention will be required to assist and rehabilitate the individuals. The intervention may be the prescription of drugs, surgery or the provision of hearing aids. With these interventions, these affected individuals are reintegrated back into the society.”

He commended MTN Foundation for “being the only known body that has come out to really help persons with hearing impairment to be reintegrated back into the society and have better quality of life. Yes, the input has brought a paradigm shift which is positively changing the narratives about hearing impairment in Nigeria.

“In the first five phases of the disability support project, MTN Foundation has given out 1,500 hearing aids. We are presently on the sixth phase and the Foundation is planning to give out double of what they have donated in the past five years,” he said.

Eneche, who has been managing deaf persons since 2001, said people often assumed deaf people were aggressive, adding that the character they exhibit was simply because they cannot express themselves for people to understand. “They are human beings, when they try to communicate to family and the public and they are not understood, what do you expect. It’s a challenge for them.

“For instance, in a meeting where you have the deaf and the blind, the deaf man is likely to be left out in the conversation while the blind man can actively participate because he can hear what others are saying and as well make contributions. Most times, no one has the patience to do sign language to assist the deaf person; hence, he cannot contribute meaningfully. The deaf person is cut off and isolated from the basic unit of the society, which is the family. Because of this, you notice that they are bottled up with emotions that are negative.”

He explained that another constraint with the deaf was that people often consider them as idiots in the society, “because they just keep going without any substance. It is quite unfortunate that this perception exist,’’ he explained.

He advised persons having hearing loss to take care of their ears because they may not know how important it is until they lose it, adding that parents and families that have deaf persons must having patience while relating with them.