In a groundbreaking initiative, the KwaZulu-Natal Auditory Implant Programme (KZN-AIP) has provided life-changing cochlear implants to ten individuals since its launch in March 2021.
Among them is a two-and-a-half-year-old girl from Newcastle and Pinetown, marking a significant milestone in improving access to hearing restoration in the region.
Addressing the program, KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane emphasised the importance of ensuring that financial constraints should never hinder individuals from accessing transformative surgeries like cochlear implants.
She made these remarks during an emotional event at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, where 43-year-old Xolani Sikhosana from Glenwood and two-and-a-half-year-old Uminathi Mafisa, a child model from Pinetown and Newcastle, had their cochlear implants activated, allowing them to hear for the first time in months.
The KZN-AIP is a collaborative effort between the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, harnessing the expertise of ear, nose, and throat surgeons, as well as audiologists.
With a vision of making people-centred ear and hearing care accessible to all, the program also involves Deaf community advocates.
MEC Simelane expressed excitement about the program, noting that while the private sector has been providing cochlear implants, the government is now taking steps to offer the service to its patients. She stated, “We are extremely excited because it means people who don’t have money, who ordinarily wouldn’t have access to this kind of procedure, are going to get it.”
Simelane acknowledged that budget constraints had posed challenges for the Department in providing this service, despite having capable medical specialists.
However, through collaboration and training, the program has progressed significantly. Cochlear implants are electronic devices that can bypass damaged middle and inner-ear structures, stimulating the auditory nerve directly and enabling individuals with hearing loss to understand speech.
Xolani Sikhosana lost his sense of hearing over a year ago due to an undisclosed ailment. Responding to a message from MEC Simelane before the implant activation, Sikhosana expressed his extreme excitement and gratitude.
Uminathi’s father, Victor Mafisa, described the past 18 months as a challenging time for his family. He eagerly anticipates playing his daughter’s favourite songs, which she hasn’t been able to hear since losing her hearing at the age of six months when she was actively modelling for prominent clothing retail catalogues.
Victor Mafisa expressed deep gratitude and urged other parents facing similar situations not to lose hope but to seek help. He said, “We’re so grateful to the team from the Department of Health and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They’re the best. They’ve brought light to a very desperate situation.”
Dr Zandile Shezi, an audiologist, and lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, highlighted the significance of her work in changing people’s lives. She emphasised the impact of cochlear implants on speech and language development in children and the restoration of quality of life for adults, enabling them to regain independence and employment opportunities.
Dr Andile Sibiya, Chief Specialist and Head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery at UKZN, expressed satisfaction with the program’s ability to impact lives positively and emphasised the importance of its sustainability. She stressed the need for early intervention and urged individuals with hearing challenges to seek help at local clinics for assessment and appropriate referrals.
She urged people with hearing challenges to seek help as soon as possible, by visiting their local clinic, where they’ll be assessed and referred accordingly.
“The sooner we test and know, the better the outcome,” concluded the doctor.
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