Blindness separates man from things but deafness separates man from people. This is according to Helen Keller, the famous American educator, activist, journalist and author (1880–1968) who overcame the adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians.
Hearing loss, also called deafness, hard of hearing, anacusis or hearing impairment, is defined as a partial or total inability to hear. In children it may affect the development of language and can cause work related difficulties for adults. Hearing loss is caused by many factors, including: genetics, age, exposure to noise, illness, chemicals and physical trauma.
According to her biography, Keller was born with her senses of sight and hearing, and started speaking when she was just 6 months old. However, she contacted blindness and deafness due to an illness when she was nearing her second birthday. These disabilities made the young Keller’s life unhappy. With limited communication, she had become very wild and unruly. She would kick and scream when angry, and giggle uncontrollably when happy. She tormented a childhood friend and inflicted raging tantrums on her parents. Many family relatives felt she should be institutionalized. But thanks to her teacher, Anne Sullivan who never gave up on her.
Hearing impairment may be ranked as mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound: Mild: between 26 and 40 dB HL for adults, and between 20 and 40 dB HL for children; Moderate: between 41 and 54 dB HL; Moderately severe: between 55 and 70 dB HL; Severe: between 71 and 90 dB HL; Profound: 91 dB HL or greater; and Totally Deaf: Have no hearing at all.
The World Health Organization said hearing loss is an invisible disability that affects nearly 500 million worldwide. In the Philippines over 17 million Filipinos have hearing loss, according to the Department of Health National Registry. Most people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids but the vast majority cannot afford them at the current high prices.
The situation is aggravated by the lack of ENT doctors and audiologists to attend to those with hearing impairments for proper diagnosis. Currently, the ratio is 1 ENT doctor per 207,000 people and 1 Audiologist per 3 million people, according to Dr. Norberto Martinez, the head the University of Santo Tomas Hospital’s ENT and audiology department.
Recent studies from the researchers at John Hopkins University have shown that unaddressed hearing loss is correlated with early Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive decline. This suggests that the sooner hearing aids are used by people with hearing loss, the better the chances of slowing the aging process. For young people, it is critical to have access to hearing aids to increase educational attainment and learning potential.
The arrival in the country of earAccess Inc. that offers the Access brand of quality yet affordable hearing aids signal a tremendous opportunity to more Filipinos to be able to hear. This Canadian company is a social enterprise founded five years ago by Audra Renyi (who is also executive director of the World Wide Hearing International). She founded the company based on her experience with her dad and her auntie who suffered hearing disabilities. She knows firsthand how frustrating and isolating hearing-impaired people feel—especially if the prohibitive prices of hearing aids prevent them from becoming productive and happy.
The ACCESS hearing aids, which are priced between P13,000 and P16,000 for the entry-level, could cost as high as P40,000 to P80,000 compared to other brands. The launch of ACCESS brand in the Philippine market on July 27 was made possible with the company’s partnership with FINE Nutrition Trading International.
Imelda Tesalona, president of FINE, and a registered pharmacist herself, expressed elation for the opportunity to be able to help in the advocacy of Renyi: to ensure that everyone who needs a hearing aid has access to quality product at affordable prices.
“We are happy to be the exclusive distributor of ACCESS hearing aids in the country. This is in consonance with our vision to promote only high-quality beauty and wellness products. With Watsons stores as the main selling platform, we know that every soon, more Filipinos with hearing concerns will have access to hearing aids that are inexpensive yet of undeniable quality,” Tesalona said.
Meanwhile, the World Wide Hearing has also been actively tapping the civic groups and NGOs dealing with poor people of the world to make these hearing aids available to the indigent people. Renyi’s foundation has already donated 1000 hearing aids to four Filipino NGOs in Bohol, the Visayas, Manila and Davao. For the Philippine launch, Renyi made another five donations to different LGUs through the National Council on Disability Affairs.
ACCESS hearing aids are now available in select Watsons Philippine stores where audiologists are deployed to test patients on hearing impairment and install them.