Manila, Philippines – Researchers from the University of the Philippines – Manila (UP Manila) and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) are developing better newborn hearing screening technologies, which will pave way for early detection of hearing impairment among Filipino infants.

The project Hearing for Life: Increasing the Rates of Newborn Hearing Screening with Novel Technologies and Telehealth (HeLe Project) is set to produce an innovative hearing screening device and telehealth technologies. This will include e-learning modules for training newborn hearing screeners and users, an electronic medical record module for newborn hearing screening, a tele-referral system, and a newborn hearing screening registry. These will allow community-based early hearing screening in Rural Health Units (RHUs) that are easily and locally accessible.

 

The HeLe Project is funded by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) through the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institutes (PCARI) Project. The CHED-PCARI is a government initiative that aims to advance the country’s capacity for research and development by addressing societal-scale problems related to health innovation and translational medicine (HITM) and information infrastructure development (IID).

A 2013 study led by HeLe Project Head Dr. Charlotte Chiong, director of the Newborn Hearing Screening Reference Center (NHSRC) at the UP Manila National Institutes of Health found that “at least 8 profoundly hearing deaf babies are born every day in the Philippines or one deaf baby born every three hours”. Statistics, however, also shows that less than 10% of Filipino babies each year are screened for hearing loss due to limited number of facilities and the high cost of screening devices.

Lead Researcher Dr. Philip Fullante said the HeLe hearing screening device, together with the telehealth technologies, is envisioned to be a cost-effective model for conducting newborn hearing screening that will be affordable to the government. “This will enable the local government units to deploy the system to its regional health units and even barangay health centers, thus capturing close to 100%, if not all of the live births in the country for newborn hearing screening,” Fullante added.

The HeLe Hearing Screening Device detects hearing impairment on the baby. The RHU then assists the family by referring them to confirmatory centers through web-based referral system where the RHU can also track the status and inform the families of their appointment or testing results. The device has a user-friendly interface that can be used on tablets or mobile phones.

Dr. Fullante also explained that the HeLe device is envisioned to be used anywhere. Screeners will be trained and certified by the Newborn Hearing Reference Center, the implementing agency authorized by the Department of Health to handle all aspects of newborn hearing screening.

The first year of the implementation of this project has seen successful field trials on the device’s safety and usability in Bulacan, Romblon, Manila, Bacolod, and Iloilo. “The HeLe device is still undergoing development and has not been deployed, but the telehealth technologies are now being used in the pilot sites,” Dr. Fullante clarified.

Currently, cochlear implants and hearing devices are some of the technologies available to treat hearing problems but many Filipinos cannot afford to buy them. The HeLe project, on the other hand, attempts early detection, thus saving the child from trauma due to permanent hearing loss. This may also help the family of the hearing impaired to prepare for future costs in terms of special education and special care.

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For more information about the HeLe Project and other projects under the CHED-PCARI, visit https://ched.gov.ph/philippine-california-advanced-research-institute-pcari/ or email info.pcariproject@ched.gov.ph

 

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