Humanitarian Audiology: how the BSA can help

Here in the UK we have the great fortune of having not only arguably the best health service in the world but also a very well developed, high quality and generally well-resourced Audiology system. However, for much of the rest of the world, particularly in developing countries where overall resources available for healthcare are tiny in comparison, the picture is very different; ear care and Audiology is often very limited by both the funding available for it and the skills and training of the staff on the ground. For example, in Zambia, a country of 13 million people, there is only one audiologist. In Sierra Leone, a country of six million people, there are none.

In these countries there may also be huge problems with the prevalence of ear problems, hearing loss and deafness in children and the adult population with a great deal of unmet need for both ENT treatment and audiological provision.

There are a number of organisations that are doing amazing work in various parts of the world and the BSA has a strong commitment to supporting humanitarian Audiology of all kinds; indeed, many members of the society have given up their time to travel to distant places to help out and contribute, always finding the experience enormously rewarding and important. The table below summarises some of the organisations known to the BSA that are involved; anyone who is interested should have a good read of the websites, which give an insight into the varied and high quality projects that are going on. Some of the countries where this work takes place have suffered from multiple problems that make our life in this country seem exceptionally comfortable and safe. For example, All Ears Cambodia provides a unique medical service in a beautiful country that has been torn by years of warfare and where there is intractable poverty. By running outreach clinics in very difficult circumstances and ear health care education, the charity helps large numbers of Cambodians every ear. British audiologists can help by sending old hearing aids or other equipment that is no longer useful here but will be put to good use over there (see the charity’s website for more details).

Similarly, the International Nepal Fellowship is a Christian mission serving Nepali people; as well as helping large numbers of vulnerable people including those with varied disabilities, leprosy, TB and health problems, they support Ear Camps in remote areas of the country, often in very difficult conditions a very long way from what we are used to here in Britain. An article about a recent trip to Nepal by Jenny Griffin and Joy Rosenburg (supported by a BSA bursary) will be featured in the next edition of Audacity, which will give a fascinating in-depth description of the experience.

The Aud-m-ed Trust carries out a wide range of activities around the world, and as the name indicates, their work encompasses audiology, medical audiology and education in Audiology; although a small charity based in the UK, their achievements are many, including: A family centred workshop for teachers of deaf children in Ghana; a technician has been brought from Ghana for training in the UK; Journals/books/equipment have been sent to Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Jordan and Russia; Hearing aids have been sent to Kenya and Iraq;a basic audiology unit set up in Nepal; a survey and rehabilitation project in China.

Tanzanear is a UK charity dedicated to helping deaf people in Tanzania lead richer and more fulfilling lives. Working closely with the Tanzania Society for the Deaf, they provide enormous help to the Buguruni School for the Deaf and also work with Umivita, a small organisation run by young deaf adults, which provides advocacy and support services to deaf people in Dar es Salaam.

Soundseekers (formerly known as the Commonwealth Society for the Deaf) will be familiar to many British audiologists and have been dedicated for many years to helping deaf and hearing-impaired people across the developing world. Sound Seekers used to be known mainly for providing mobile hearing health-care clinics (HARK! vehicles) but are now trying to work more deeply in fewer countries, including tele-audiology and targeted paediatric screening projects, and providing continuing professional development to in-country audiologists. Soundseekers have recently moved into a new office at the UCL Ear Institute in London- so are in the ’heart of the action’ when it comes to ear and hearing research and Audiology. Below is a call to all audiologists who are looking for an exciting opportunity to work in another part of the world and make a real difference- please read!

The BSA will continue to keep supporting the organisations described here, and promoting humanitarian audiology around the world is a key objective in the society’s Action Plan for the future.

Huw Cooper

Organisation Country Website Role
Tanzanear Tanzania http://www.tanzanear.org/home/index.htm Schools for deaf children; deaf advocacy
All ears Cambodia Cambodia www.allearscambodia.org Ear health care and audiology
Audmed trust Ghana, other countries in Africa and around the world www.audmed.org.uk Christian Mission
International Nepal Fellowship Nepal www.inf.org Ear camps
Sound-seekers Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Zambia http://www.sound-seekers.org.uk/ Long-term audiological support – provision of training and equipment