Call to screen all newborn babies

KUALA LUMPUR: All newborn babies should be screened for hearing defects, say medical experts. Datin Dr Siti Sabzah Hashim said that 50% of newborn hearing problems were detected from screening high-risk babies, but the rest from the “normal” group were missed out until it was too late for early intervention.

“It would be good if all babies are screened,” she said at a conference here yesterday. Three to four in 1,000 babies are born with hearing problems and it is important to detect them for early intervention programmes to take place.

This would enable them to go to mainstream schools and universities and would reduce the need for setting up special schools, said Dr Siti, who is Asian Paediatric Otorhinolaryngology Group president.

She also pointed out the need for a national policy and an improved Hearing Disability Act so that a proper programme could be established.

“The Act should be improved to allow underprivileged disabled children the right to hearing aids with minimal bureaucracy,” she said.

Dr Siti said that while vocational programmes were available, job placements were not.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the number of paediatric otolaryingologists would be increased from the current 10.

The ministry planned to supply RM10mil worth of screening equipment to hospitals with such services in the coming years, said Dr Noor Hisham, whose speech was read out by Medical Profession Development Branch deputy director Dr Rohaizat Yon.

He added that this would ensure hearing loss among infants would be identified by three months and receive intervention by six months, in accordance with the recommendation by the International Joint Committee.

“The ministry is working towards universal newborn hearing screening,” he added.

To date, Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah, Alor Setar, Putrajaya Hospital and all university hospitals have implemented it.

The National Hearing Survey 2005 shows that 7.2% of children under 10 suffer hearing loss which is equivalent to an estimated population of 285,000 children.

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