Julie Fahnestock: How we’re working to provide better hearing in the Dominican Republic

Posted on February 22, 2016

Sisters Camil and Shenoa bounce around the playground at Centro Cristiano de Servicios Medicos in a busy neighborhood of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. At just 12 years old, Camil participates in one of the country’s national volleyball leagues. She’s tall and strong and plays the position of “atacador.”

Her father slowly repeats my questions about her favorite sport and encourages Camil to answer me directly. She tries, though her responses are muffled.

Both Camil and Shenoa were born with severe deafness. When Camil was one, her mother noticed her unresponsiveness to fireworks. Shenoa’s severe hearing loss was detected at three months. The causes remain unknown.

Camil Looking at Shenoa, B&W, MI

Miguel Evangelista, Director of the Audiology Program at Centro Cristiano – a robust medical center, offering extensive services to some of the poorest residents in the Dominican Republic – explains that the girls received hearing aids in the past, but aids did not provide sufficient support. “Today they will be fitted with MAX hearing aids,” adds Evangelista.

In 2010, Centro Cristiano partnered with the Hear the World Foundation, a nonprofit whose goal is to enable as many people as possible to enjoy better hearing. Founded by Swiss-based hearing aid manufacturer Phonak, a brand of the Sonova Group which funds the foundation.

Centro Cristiano’s Hospital Administrator Nicole Hunter applied for a partnership when she saw the need for audiology services. The first audiology training program in the Dominican Republic was soon launched.

“Our goal is to train enough audiologists so that they can serve patients in each of our four sub-centers across the city,” says Hunter.

As of November 2015, 15 Dominicans students had been trained as audiologists, and the Hear the World Foundation had invested $275,000 in hearing aids, batteries, equipment and monetary distributions. The Sonova Group also provides employees with paid time off to volunteer their expertise.

During my visit, Olga Guzman, a Sonova Group Technical Audiologist based in Bogota, Colombia trained audiology students to fit children with Unitron hearing aids. I watched children experience the sound of their mothers’ voices for the first time – unforgettable moments made possible by Hear the World Foundation’s long-term commitments to building audiological infrastructure in the world’s poorest nations.

According to the World Health Organization, 5.2 percent of low income countries have more than one audiologist per million population, compared to 87.5 percent of high income countries. In developing nations like the DR, deaf support systems are rare. Failure to detect hearing loss in young children often results in a life of poverty.

“We can’t say our vision is to live in a world where everyone enjoys hearing and not do something about creating access for those in developing nations,” says Sarah Kreienbuehl, GVP Corporate HRM and Communications at Sonova Group. “Our aim is to invest into locally-based partners with the potential for long-term sustainability.”

Phase two of the partnership between Centro Cristiano and Hear the World includes the launch of the country’s first newborn screening clinic.

“Based on annual birthrates, we can assume a minimum of 400 newborns with congenital hearing impairment per year. The screenings will start with premature babies first because they are at higher risk,” says Hunter.

The newborn screening program will prevent families from haphazardly discovering deafness in their toddlers as was the case with Camil and Shenoa.

“Camil has been asking when she was going to get a better hearing device,” her father tells me. “She couldn’t wait for this day to come.”

See the partnership between Cristiano de Servicios Medicos & Hear the World. Read the 2013/2014 Hear the World Foundation Report. Check out where Hear the World invests around the world. Read about Centro Cristiano de Servicios Medicos in Santo Domingo. Like Hear the World on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter and their feed on Instagram.

Julie Fahnestock is the Founder and Sustainability Storyteller at B Storytelling, and she is passionate about telling the story of where business meets good. B Storytelling is a content development company specifically designed to help popularize the good happening through business. They do this by helping Benefit Corporations and other social enterprises identify, build and leverage their brands. Julie has an MBA in Managing for Sustainability from Marlboro Graduate School. She lives in West Palm Beach, Florida with her husband, Thomas.

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