Friday, July 21, 2017

CROSSROADS : Technology, innovation needed in public health


By Saumu Jumanne

The world sells bad news fast and furious. They say, the bad, the negative, the odd, makes news more than the outstanding and excellence. Tanzania is no different.

So when in a while excellent, uplifting news are written about dear motherland, I feel elated. After all, Tanzania is my homeland and for over 50 million others, who have nowhere else but their great motherland.

I felt extremely happy when last week Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) made history--for the posterity. It was a great joy for five children with hearing impairment and their families after the hospital made them get hearing, thanks to cochlear implant.

Making a person with hearing impairment being able to hear often considered miraculous. This was real. And it was for the first time it was done in Tanzania at a public hospital. Thanks to technology, where specialists at the MNH, used cochlea implants to help the five children get hearing.

A simple google search indicates the operation involves drilling a hole into the skull and inserting through the earlobe a cochlear device. The decisive coordinates with an external device to stimulate hearing.

The technology was developed and invented by Dr William F. House (1923-2012), an American who is known as “the Father of Neurotology”. In 1981, Tracy Husted was his first pre-school-age child to get a cochlear implant!

Its great news because we have a good number of people with hearing impairment who could benefit from the treatment but could not afford the cost of travelling to Kenya or India for the same at extremely high costs, thought to be over Sh70 million.

According to MNH’s Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) Consultant Dr Edwin Lyombo, the cost for cochlea implantation treatment at MNH is around Sh37 million. This is still very expensive for a common mwananchi, but hopeful arrangements can be done to support as many as possible.

According to only less than 1 per cent of about 38,400 deaf children in Tanzania go to school. Could most of them benefit from this hearing aid? The Tanzania deaf community is said to have about 324,000 people.

As a nation, we need to listen to Chavita, the Tanzania Society for the Deaf, which advocates for the rights of the deaf.

Hellen Keller (1925) once said: “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune.”

With this in mind, hearing aids that alleviate the plight of the deaf should be made affordable. The nation should come together and have many deaf people tested for such hearing aids. Helping them means also having more specialists like Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) trained doctors.

Back in 2015, some ENT specialists formed Cochlear Implant Group of Tanzania, whose efforts have finally made it possible for the MNT to perform the first operation. Looking at the Tanzania Ear Nose & Throat (ENT) website ( I could count about 14 members only.

Hopefully, we have other ENT specialists who are not members.

Many hospitals across the country don’t have any ENT specialists. This needs to change for the better!

Kudos to Dr Edwin Lyombo and his team for the successful surgery, that has helped the five children with hearing impairment to manage their hearing. This is a walk-up call for the nation to budget more to enable doctors in public health use modern technology to alleviate the suffering of their patients. Of late MNH has made strides. Heart surgeries are now a reality.

Back to people with hearing impairment, it is very sad since only few go to school. Like all other Tanzanians, they deserve to get the best education.

Saumu Jumanne is an assistant lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE)