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Extra funding for Cochlear Implants set to transform lives

Additional funding for Cochlear Implants set to transform the lives of children born without hearing.

Cochlear implants have transformed the lives of children who are born without hearing, and today, the Minister of Health announced that New Zealand was coming in line with global best practice and funding bilateral cochlear implants for children with severe and profound deafness.

The Northern Cochlear Implant Trust has been working closely with the Ministry of Health, provider agencies, parents and health professionals to achieve this outcome.

“Hearing is a sense most of us take for granted, but for children with hearing loss there is a tremendous impact on their learning, language development and participation in verbal communication,” says Dr. Bill Keith, Chairman of the Northern Cochlear Implant Trust. “We have been providing a cochlear implant for one ear only for children whose hearing loss cannot be adequately compensated by hearing aids. Except in quiet situations with speech that is adequately loud and clear, hearing with one ear is much more difficult than hearing with two, even more so since cochlear implants don’t completely restore normal hearing.”

Dr. Keith explains, “The brain hears best with input from both sides. It is impossible to localise the direction of sounds with only one ear, which has important implications both for safety, and for hearing and understanding speech when there is background noise. With bilateral cochlear implants we can give children with severe and profound deafness the best chance of participating on an equal footing in our hearing society.”

There is a critical time window for cochlear implantation in deaf children in which to maximize hearing outcomes. This is within the first five years of a child’s life when the brain is developing rapidly and making key, foundational connections. Optimal outcomes for bilateral implantation have been shown to be when both implants are given at the same time or close in time.

For five-year-old Rihanna Balingit, who was born deaf, her cochlear implant opened up a new world to her. “The difference in Rihanna when she got her cochlear implant last year was immense, she brightened up, became more confident, curious and playful,” says her mum Michele. “Her world is much more open now, but she does get tired at school, having to listen so hard and to concentrate with just one hearing ear. That is why we are so excited about now being able to have another implant, so it will be easier for her to hear and learn.”


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