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Mulago performs Africa's first ear implant

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th February 2008 03:00 AM

A TEAM of American and Ugandan doctors have carried out the first surgery in Africa to implant a device and restore the hearing of a patient at Mulago Hospital.

A TEAM of American and Ugandan doctors have carried out the first surgery in Africa to implant a device and restore the hearing of a patient at Mulago Hospital.

By Raymond Baguma

A TEAM of American and Ugandan doctors have carried out the first surgery in Africa to implant a device and restore the hearing of a patient at Mulago Hospital.

David Nuwagaba, 23, from Kiruhura district, suffered a chronic infection that left him deaf almost two years ago. But thanks to Cochlear, a US-based company that manufactures implantable hearing devices, his dream of going to university might come true.

On Tuesday, a team of American specialists and nurses, assisted by Ugandans, carried out an operation to restore his hearing free of charge.

The surgical procedure took two hours. An incision was made in the skin behind the ear where a special ‘cochlear’ device was implanted. The device enables somebody to decipher sounds ranging from speech, telephone calls, running water and the chirping of birds, explained Thomas Roeland, an Associate Professor at the New York University School of Medicine, who headed the team.

The cochlear forms the inner ear, which transmits sound waves through cells that pick the vibrations which are transmitted to the brains.

The implanted cochlear device replaces the part of the damaged inner ear. It receives sound signals and sends them to the nerves, skipping the non-working parts in the ear.

The American experts were assisted by Dr. Michael Awubwa, the acting head of the Ear, Nose and Throat department at Mulago Hospital.

After the operation, the patient was taken to the ICT department at Makerere University, where the implanted device was programmed over the Internet by another US-based specialist. Nuwagaba is the first person whose hearing has been restored in Uganda.

People who have been deaf for a long time should get therapy services to enable them regain their speech and language skills, Prof. Roeland advised.
Four to 11% of Ugandans suffer from hearing loss, while one out of every 1,000 children is born deaf, according to Awubwa.

The most common causes of hearing loss are ear infections, advanced age, foreign bodies in the ear and loud noise. But toxic drugs and diseases such as meningitis, measles and mumps can also lead to the problem.

In addition, the anti-malarial drug quinine, as well as aspirin, when administered in large doses, could cause deafness.

Ugandans in need of treatment by surgery, drugs or hearing aids to restore their hearing are many, yet the procedure is expensive, Awubwa pointed out.

The device costs $26,000, while the surgical and rehabilitation costs to enable the person undergo speech and language therapy raises the total to $50,000.

“We need to train people in primary health care to detect hearing losses and treat what they can and refer what they cannot treat,” he said.

He noted that 50% of hearing loss was preventable through immunisation and proper nutrition to prevent disease.

Mulago performs Africa's first ear implant

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