Affordable Cochlear Implants
A South Korean tech startup is pioneering a more affordable cochlear implant through automated production. TODOC specializes in making these implants, which use surgically installed devices to help those with severe hearing loss improve their hearing by bypassing damaged portions of the ear. Without the devices, hearing-impaired people are more likely to experience lower economic status, poorer education and more, especially in parts of the world where resources dedicated to people with disabilities are scarce. 

The average cochlear implant costs more than $20,000, putting it firmly out of reach for many in the developing world. At the same time, 80% of people that could benefit from having cochlear hearing live in the developing world.

With higher rates of hearing impairment and limited resources, TODOC’s more affordable cochlear implant poses a possible solution to an issue that is costing the world billions of dollars and pushing many into isolation and poverty.

How Deafness and Hearing Loss Contribute to Poverty

Hearing loss and deafness can create numerous barriers to success, especially when those living with them do not receive sufficient support. One study published in the journal Disability and Society showed that those in the United Kingdom living with hearing impairment on average had lower household incomes, greater difficulties making ends meet, struggled more with unexpected costs and had higher jobless rates than their unimpaired counterparts. 

Compared to those living in the U.K., which boasted an impressive Human Development Index of 0.932 in 2018, people with hearing difficulties are even more likely to face disability-related consequences when living in developing countries. A 2005 study published in the BMJ posited that though children with hearing issues are just as likely to see a doctor, 80% did not receive a hearing aid. As a result, children with hearing impairments on average saw their education delayed until they were more than 10 years old, putting them at a considerable disadvantage to their unimpaired peers. 

Barriers to Distributing Hearing Aids and Other Treatments

Throughout the developing world, similar situations are commonplace. One study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health demonstrated that the distribution of hearing aids to families living in proximity to Guatemala City, Guatemala significantly increased household incomes. Another study from BMC Health Services Research demonstrated that children living with disabilities in Sub-Saharan African countries faced numerous barriers, such as widespread poverty, cultural stigma and inadequate healthcare systems, to receiving diagnoses and treatments for their issues, which ultimately decreased their quality of life.

The economic consequences of unaddressed hearing impairment and the lack of affordable cochlear implants in the developing world has received wide documentation. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that lower- and middle-income countries have contributed 57% of the $980 billion lost to healthcare costs, educational costs, loss of productivity and societal costs stemming from unaddressed hearing impairment. The number that WHO provided excluded the exorbitant amount of money spent on hearing aids. 

TODOC’s Plans to Improve Hearing For the Poor

Kyou Sik Min, who has previously worked for Samsung Electronics’s healthcare technology division and at other cochlear implant companies, started TODOC with the mission of expanding the cochlear implant market globally. To further this point, Sik Min named the company after the Korean word for the sound made when someone pats another’s shoulder “to create a company that comforts people with hearing loss by ‘patting’ the shoulders of people in difficult situations.” 

The company specifically focuses on creating high-quality, affordable cochlear implants for those who could not otherwise afford them. It also creates nerve stimulation and neuromodulation devices to help researchers and help with nerve pain. To reduce costs and increase output, TODOC has developed a system to manufacture its devices using automation. 

Currently, TODOC does not list a price for any of its devices. There are also questions of if and/or how the company plans to address the issue of the costs and accessibility to the surgery required to implant the devices and the therapy typically required to use cochlear implants.

At the same time, the company lists numerous innovations and improvements attached to its SULLIVAN model of affordable cochlear implants. This includes brain-machine interfacing and what the company calls “superior Neural Interface Technology,” which both have the potential to streamline the device’s implementation and use.

Looking Ahead

The company was invited to the Consumer Electronic Show in January 2022 to show its first line of implants and further advertise its products. In 2021, Min’s pitch for making a more affordable cochlear implant won the company $500,000 in funding at the Entrepreneurial World Cup Finals. Investors have also provided the company with more than millions of dollars in funding, including $3.5 million from the South Korean government. 

Overall, the investments demonstrate the international community’s confidence in TODOC’s ability to deliver on its promise to bring a solution to the developing world’s hearing problems and fight inequity within the cochlear implant industry.

Ryan Morton
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Deaf in Singapore
Hearing impairment worsens many of the challenges of everyday life, including for the deaf in Singapore. There are currently around
500,000 hearing impaired and deaf people within Singapore. This accounts for about 8.4% of the total population of 5.95 million people as of September 13, 2022.

The Singapore Association for the Deaf is a nonprofit that provides essential services to the hearing impaired. This nonprofit’s vision is “to be the leading (organization) in advocating equal opportunity, in all aspects, for the Deaf and Hard of hearing and supporting them to reach their full potential.” This organization originated in 1955 and provides support in many different forms. This support ultimately allows the deaf in Singapore to reach a comfortable level of success.


The Mayflower Primary School provides general education to hearing-impaired children. Two separate teachers who create lesson plans specially tailored to the deaf (one teacher is provided by the Singapore Association for the Deaf) lead each classroom. The lessons include the use of Singapore Sign Language to properly teach core subjects to the hearing impaired.

Upon graduation from Mayflower, students can transfer to Beatty Secondary School. This school provides similar services to Mayflower in terms of teaching the hearing impaired. Additionally, this school provides emotional support as well as aid with assistive devices to their students. Trained staff are provided to this school through the Singapore Association for the Deaf.

The Mountbatten Vocational School provides specific professional training to the deaf in Singapore. This school allows its students to obtain ITE certification (Institute for Technical Education) through a comprehensive two-year program. The program includes “electrical wiring,” “plumbing,” “residential air conditioning” and other forms of training. 

Support Services for Students

Deaf students in Singapore are aided with adjustment into public schools through the Itinerant Support Service. Both the students and their families have involvement in this process to best accommodate the needs of the hearing impaired.

Social workers help the deaf and their families address issues such as “information and referral, case management, counseling, financial assistance and also make school visits.” Educational support is also provided to enhance skills related to core topics and in turn aid integration into public schools. Another form of support that aids with integration into public schools is speech therapy, where deaf students develop “listening and articulation skills.” 

Services for the Deaf

The Singapore Association for the Deaf provides a variety of services to the hearing impaired in Singapore. The services are on the organization’s website. 

  • “Information services” – information for clients as a guide for how to use community resources.
  • “Counseling”- emotional support for the deaf in Singapore.
  • “Financial Assistance”- aid with applications to national financial assistance programs. These include the Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) and the Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF).
  • “Employment”- aiding the hearing impaired with finding deaf-friendly employers.
  • “Volunteer Activities”- the organization cooperates with Voluntary Welfare organizations to provide the necessary support to the deaf in Singapore and “empower” them through various activities. This includes the “Social Group of the Deaf” which encourages physical exercise and healthy lifestyle choices for the hearing impaired.

Sign Language Coursework

Singapore Sign Language is a hybrid form of sign language that combines aspects of Shanghainese Sign Language, American Sign Language and other lesser-known forms of sign language. The Singapore Association for the Deaf provides coursework that occurs online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hearing Care

The hearing care center provides health care services related to hearing and the devices used to aid the hearing impaired. Every registered client at the Singapore Association for the Deaf has entitlement to one free hearing test per year. The organization also offers ear impressions/molds to provide clients with the proper assistive devices for their bodies.

The organization also provides free hearing aids to members of the organization. Additionally, the organization sells batteries and additional accessories for hearing aids. All of the aforementioned services are essential for the hearing impaired to live with relative normality among their peers. 

Other Medical Assistance

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prominence of telehealth services rose significantly. This was especially true in Singapore as the government distributed Ministry of Health phone numbers to access assistance and information about COVID-19. This proved unsatisfactory for the deaf in Singapore due to them being unable to talk over the telephone.

After some complaints, the Ministry of Health announced a partnership with the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Singapore Association for the Deaf to create a more convenient solution. The organizations proceeded to create an SMS and email service as well as services for sign language interpretation. The programs allow the deaf in Singapore to receive accurate information about COVID-19 and respond accordingly.

The Singapore Association for the Deaf provides necessary aid and subsequently enables the hearing impaired through their various programs. This organization sets a strong precedent for other hearing-impaired organizations to follow.

Max Cole
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

deaf people in sub-saharan africaThe World Health Organization (WHO) reports that currently, 466 million people live with a hearing disability. This number is predicted to increase substantially in the coming years. WHO forecasts that by 2050, around 900 million people will be diagnosed with a hearing disability. Hearing loss can come as a result of many medical issues, such as overexposure to loud noise, ear infections, ototoxicity from medications and other general infections to the body. However, experts believe that the rise in hearing-impaired disabilities results from aging populations instead of infections. Deaf people in sub-Saharan Africa are no exception to this trend.

WHO reports that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the regions most affected by hearing-impaired disabilities, with four times more cases than high-income countries. In the past, Deaf people in sub-Saharan Africa have lacked equal opportunity to participate in society, particularly in education and employment. Thankfully, multiple countries are taking steps to improve the lives of Deaf people in sub-Saharan Africa.


Uganda’s 1995 constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability. Uganda is also one of only a few countries to recognize Sign Language in its constitution. To further support citizens with a disability, the country passed The Persons with Disabilities Act. This law protects those with disabilities and provides a 15% tax reduction for private employers who have 10 or more persons with a disability on their full-time payroll.

Gallaudet University, the leading private university to educate Deaf and hard of hearing students, reports multiple Deaf organizations in Uganda. These include Deaf Link Uganda, an organization that financially supports Deaf entrepreneurs and business owners who struggle with socio-economic equality. Additionally, SignHealth Uganda is an NGO that works to provide equitable and necessary social services for Deaf men, women and children.

Following Uganda’s lead, other countries have begun to adopt anti-discrimination laws to protect Deaf people. For example, shortly after the passing of the Ugandan legislation, Togo drafted government regulations that prevent disability discrimination and promise to provide training, rehabilitation, counseling and employment to all who qualify. Togo now also recognizes Sign Language as the official language of Deaf people and has created a governmental committee that will consider Deaf and hearing-impaired disability aid during policy development.

South Africa

In South Africa, the population of Deaf and hard of hearing citizens reaches around 4 million. Like Uganda, South Africa also has anti-discrimination policies in place to protect those with a disability. South Africa mandates that a Sign Language interpreter be available for major events to ensure that communication accommodations are provided to all. Deaf culture is rather established in this country due to its prioritization of awareness and equity. Established as a National Language Unit in 2001, South African Sign Language (SASL) is the household language chosen by Deaf people in the region.

Naming September the National Month of Deaf People, South Africa has made it a priority that Deaf people be given the same opportunities and advantages as any other person, especially in education. The South African sector of the National Institute for the Deaf offers students the ability to gain workforce experience and interact with people of their culture in a new environment through student internships and practical work. Additionally, the Carel du Toit Center, a school in Cape Town, offers the Children Hear and Talk (CHAT) program, which acts as an early intervention method. The school offers weekly sessions for parents to discuss language exposure in everyday life, as well as sessions for younger children to get a head start on their education. Carel du Toit employs more than 60 professionals to work with students on speech training and communication in a natural setting.

South Africa has also made progress in technological advancements aimed at helping Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. In 2019, South African medical specialist Mashudu Tshifularo completed the first-ever successful middle-ear transplant using a 3-D printer. This breakthrough could prove to be a long-term solution for damage-caused deafness. Tshifularo’s procedure will be safe for people of all ages, including newborns. The minister of South Africa’s Department of Health stated that Tshifularo will “get all the help he needs” moving forward in this positive development for Deaf people in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Nigeria has focused on educational improvements in supporting its Deaf citizens. The Total Communication method, implemented by the Hands and Voices organization in Nigeria, is a Deaf and hard of hearing instructional approach that provides each student with a range of nonverbal communication tools. The Total Communication program works to offer communication options to allow language development for every child’s specific needs. Paralinguistics presented through the Total Communication method include formal sign language as well as finger-spelling, body language, natural gestures and facial expressions that can then be paired with spoken language comprehension if the child or parent so chooses. This program has become the primary mode of instruction for Deaf students in Nigeria.

Like South Africa, Nigeria offers Deaf students real-world learning opportunities and internships in preparation for life after school. Ibadan University in Nigeria was the first to create a Department of Special Education, while Jos University offers high-quality training for educators of the Deaf. Both universities recognize two languages for Deaf people in Nigeria, Hausa and Yoruba, both of which are the established sign languages in their respective regions.


Of the 10% of Kenyans who have a disability, 3 million struggle with unemployment. Thankfully, workplace equality for the Deaf people of Kenya has grown substantially in the past decade. Kenya’s Disability Act of 2003 requires 5% of jobs to be given to citizens with a disability. Recognizing the stigma against hiring a Deaf person, the Pallet Cafe in Nairobi exclusively hires Deaf wait staff. Each server wears a shirt with #IamDeaf on the back and works with customers through sign language or other methods of nonverbal communication. The Pallet Cafe allows its Deaf waiters to be comfortably integrated into society by interacting with non-disabled people and helping them find empowerment in their employment.

To promote accessibility for its Deaf citizens, Kenya’s National Council for People with Disabilities has created a four-year education plan for public sector workers to learn and understand sign language. Kenya’s National Association of the Deaf aids Deaf Kenyans through rehabilitation, accessibility, training and employment. Unlike some other countries, however, Kenya has also taken physical action to address the needs of citizens with a disability by leveling pavements and ensuring accessibility to elevators and restrooms. In this way, Kenya supports the lives of Deaf people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Part of further efforts to diminish the stigma around Deaf and hard of hearing people, the documentary “Deaf Role Models in Africa” was created in 2014. The documentary highlights Deaf Kenyans’ accomplishments to prove that children with disabilities have the same intellect and potential as children without a disability. The short film discusses the need for a proper and well-funded education so that Deaf and hard of hearing children can succeed in their adult lives and continue to contribute to their country in new and inspiring ways.

Moving Forward

Progress in opportunities and education for Deaf people in sub-Saharan Africa may have been slow-moving in the past, but these countries are working hard to make sure their citizens with disabilities are represented and supported. These positive developments for Deaf people in Sub-Saharan Africa go beyond just accessibility in the workforce by promoting integration into a stigma-free society.

– Alexa Tironi
Photo: Flickr

Hearing Loss in Developing CountriesAs of 2018, an estimated 466 million people around the globe suffer from hearing loss. Access to technology and medical care to aid those with hearing loss is rather limited in developing nations. Language barriers, stemming from a lack of sign language interpreters, prevent communication between patients and doctors. By identifying the signs of hearing loss earlier, individuals may have opportunities to receive medical help and progress in their communities. Addressing hearing loss in developing countries through public health measures and advocacy will aid the economy and overall well-being of developing countries.

Causes of Hearing Loss in Developing Countries

The two primary kinds of hearing loss in developing countries are congenital and acquired. Congenital causes can come from a family history of hearing loss, prenatal factors or complications during childbirth. Severe infection during pregnancy often passes onto the baby. Low birth weight, a lack of oxygen during birth, premature birth or preeclampsia are all contributors to hearing loss in newborns.

Acquired causes of hearing loss happen at birth, during childhood or from aging. Old age or exposure to loud noises during one’s lifetime can destroy sensory cells in the ear. Trauma from an accident or even severe, recurring ear infections can also lead to deafness in one or both ears. For example, chronic ear infections in South-East Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa affect up to 46% of their populations. In a study in Brazil involving 70 subjects, the Zika virus caused hearing loss for 7% of the children between 0-10 months.

Effects on Children

Unlike further developed countries, mothers and families are unable to screen their newborns during and after pregnancy. Approximately 34 million children have disabling hearing loss, and the majority of these children suffer socially and emotionally. Without the ability to communicate effectively, these children end up isolated within their homes. They can not receive an education, so in their adult life, they remain illiterate. A lack of education means higher unemployment rates throughout the country.

Some forms of prevention against disease may also put newborns at risk of developing deafness. Around 660,000 out of 219 million people die each year from malaria. Chemoprophylaxis is one of several forms of medication to prevent contracting the illness. Malaria can lead to low birth rate and deafness, but so can antimalaria medication such as Chemoprophylaxis. Other medicines used for infections during pregnancy or tuberculosis can similarly result in deafness for newborn children.

Organizations and Advocacy

Children must be immunized against severe diseases to aid hearing loss in developing countries. Mothers must be encouraged to take medications needed during their pregnancies properly, and earlier screenings on newborns need to be readily available. World Wide Hearing provides affordable hearing aids to countries lacking hearing clinics. With less than 10% of hearing aid distribution worldwide, World Wide Hearing ensures the deaf’s social inclusivity.

Partners for a Greater Voice built a school for the deaf in the Dominican Republic and also provides hearing aids to those with lower incomes. The trained teachers prioritize oral education and thus communicate effectively with students. Grand Challenges Canada pairs with Hearing Access World to distribute hearing loss diagnostic kits, and provide affordable screenings coupled with hearing aids. Along with donations and massive investments, projects involving Audio Techs also refer some patients to doctors that will cater to severe needs.

By preventing disease and providing needed resources, these organizations can limit the detriment of hearing loss in developing countries. Starting with the youth will benefit the economy as more children go to school and have jobs readily available. Age-related hearing loss must be managed through implementing active communication catered towards the deaf. Young or old, the deaf community will attain a better quality of life and socioeconomic confidence with accessible programs.

Sydney Stokes
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Improvements for Deaf People in China
There have been many improvements for deaf people in China, especially in the areas of education, language and health care. Providing a sense of self-worth and pride, deaf individuals globally are seeing a shift in their impairment. While people once considered deafness a weakness, this disability has become a model of strength and purpose.

China’s population of 1.3 billion includes 27.8 million who suffer from hearing loss. This figure involves an estimated 11 percent of people older than 60 years of age and 20 million in the elderly segment, who suffer from moderate to severe hearing problems. The Ministry of Health has identified 115,000 children under the age of 7 with severe to profound hearing loss. Further, 30,000 babies are born with hearing impairment each year.

The Challenges

Improvements for deaf people in China are still an ongoing process. Deaf students face significant challenges such as education, language and acceptance. Parents of deaf children fought against their children learning Chinese Sign Language (CSL) for the stigma of not being normal. Parents preferred a more mainstream learning environment.

Moreover, deaf students were at a disadvantage when applying for colleges. These students fell behind their hearing peers, despite the schools expecting them to keep pace. Fortunately for deaf students, soon came the introduction of bilingual learning; students could still learn CSL, as well as spoken and written Chinese. Also, to their benefit, adapted materials included the availability of the National Higher Education Examination.

Still, China has made significant progress. In the past decade, there has been an increase in education accessibility for schools exclusively for deaf individuals, as well as schools for all other forms of disability.

Programs Launched and Progress

The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised China for the improvements of the programs for deaf people. The population of focus includes children with deafness, growing children with hearing loss/problems and the elderly community.

As of 1999, China has initiated the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) on the recommendation of the Central Government. The UNHS involves screenings offered in hospital-based programs. Newborns from low-income families receive pre-screenings for hearing-aids, as well as pre-screenings for cochlear implants. Additionally, China provides free hearing aids to deaf or hearing-impaired adults over 60 years of age. To date, over 400,000 individuals have benefited from these programs.

Hearing Screening Process

There are three categories in the hearing screening process. The first category includes large cities with extensive resources that provide UNHS hospital-based programs. This has lead to the screening of 95 percent of babies. The second category involves targeted screenings of high-risk newborns. Within one month of birth, newborns may visit early screening centers upon referral. The last category consists of the wide dissemination of questionnaires and simple tests. These tests, that community doctors provide, monitor each child’s hearing.

According to the UNHS, hearing loss in babies ranges from three to six per 1,000 births. The Otoacoustic emissions/Automated Auditory brainstem response methods perform screenings. These methods (OAE/AABR) offer a simple pass/fail result or a referral-based result, depending on the recommendation of extensive tests.

The Impact

The improvements of deaf people in China continue today, including in areas of educational and career opportunities. China is encouraging feedback from the deaf community in decision making. Further, these efforts ensure a more inclusive and informed environment, that does not highlight limitations and welcomes diversity.

Michelle White
Photo: Flickr

Starkey Hearing Foundation
The Starkey Hearing Foundation is an organization that William F. Austin founded and it is on a mission to help people with hearing loss around the world. Its goal is to make hearing health care services more accessible for people worldwide, and thanks to the Minnesota Vikings, more people are aware of the cause.

Hearing Disadvantage Facts

Around 466 million people around the world have disabling hearing loss. According to the World Health Organization, of these 466 million people, less than 3 percent can actually afford hearing aids. They also lack the funds in order to pay for the care they need. Hearing aids can cost anywhere between $40 and $3,000, so developing countries will have a hard time paying for these if they are already having a hard time making ends meet.

Impoverished people in countries around the world receive poor treatment from uneducated doctors and can face preventable medical issues that can cause hearing loss. One of the most common issues is Otitis Media, which is a chronic ear infection in the middle ear that causes inflammation. This infection is most common within babies under 5 years old and can go undetected in foreign countries due to doctors being unable to give proper treatment.

Twenty-five percent of adults around the world who are over the age of 65 have hearing loss. Most of these people come from Asian and African countries. Lack of resources and awareness are the reason why so many Africans and Asians have a hearing impairment.

Pregnancy complications also contribute to hearing loss, not just for the unborn baby, but for the mother as well. Researchers have found that if a mother were to spend time in excess noise, the baby would likely be susceptible to being hearing impaired. Consumption of alcohol and smoking cigarettes also play a role in a baby possibly being deaf. Both cigarettes and alcohol have toxins and can cause malnutrition for an unborn child.

Starkey Hearing Foundation

The Starkey Hearing Foundation has a goal to make sure everyone around the world has access to health care services so they can get the proper care they need. Its goal is to also help people afford hearing aids. The organization teamed up with the government and other organization health leaders to make this possible. The Foundation has talked with global health professionals to advocate for hearing health and provide support to the government in developing hearing health policies.

Over the years, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has been to over 100 countries and has helped people receive the proper care they needed in order to hear again. Because of this, the organization now has the largest hearing health care database in the world. Many people from different countries have traveled to its headquarters in Minnesota to receive help.

The organization has helped different medical practices with research by figuring out the reason behind hearing loss within a specific country. It also supports other physicians who have worked on the hearing problem around the world.

The Foundation has shared different strategies with the government who are currently working on developing hearing policies in developing countries. It has also shared its knowledge on how hearing care could improve within the existing health systems.

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings, who are a national football team based in Minneapolis, are the biggest supporters of the Starkey Hearing Foundation because the organization is also based out of Minnesota.

In 2013, the Vikings partnered with the Starkey Hearing Foundation in order to help spread awareness to their fanbase about the issue. With over 2 million followers on Facebook, over 1 million followers on Twitter, over 800,000 followers on Instagram and drawing in roughly 66,000 people to games every year, at least 3 million people are aware of the Foundation and how to support it.

During every home game, radio and television stations would promote the campaign so even more people would become aware of the cause. Fans who attended the home games also received Starkey brand ear protection. The Vikings also made a commitment that for every touchdown the team scored, they would donate $500 to the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

– Reese Furlow
Photo: Flickr

Starkey Hearing Foundation Empowers Patients in El SalvadorFour-hundred and sixty-six million people worldwide are affected by hearing loss. While this figure does include the occasional grandpa, the majority of those affected live in low and middle-income countries. In developing nations, it is uncommon for hearing disabled children to be enrolled in school or for hearing disabled adults to find employment. The Starkey Hearing Foundation is working to change this, and here’s how. 

So the World May Hear

William F. Austin started the Starkey Hearing Foundation in 1984 for one simple reason: So the World May Hear. The foundation has followed this mission for over 30 years through collaboration with NGOs, governmental agencies and health leaders in more than 100 countries. While much of the work that the Starkey Hearing Foundation does is in service delivery, combating hearing loss also requires education and advocacy efforts. By providing services in each of these categories, the foundation has been able to deliver 1.9 million hearing aids across the globe.

Providing Life-Changing Equipment

While the majority of those who are hearing disabled live in the developing world, less than 3 percent of them can afford or have access to hearing health care. The Starkey Hearing Foundation’s solution to this problem goes beyond simply putting a bandaid over the wound. Their model is community-based, creating sustainable hearing healthcare through local teams and partnerships.

First, the foundation identifies an area in need. After local health workers are educated and trained, then communities begin to receive hearing aids. During this phase, the foundation also works to educate patients and their families and communities about hearing health care. Monthly aftercare services are provided at a central location that also offers free repair and replacement for damaged hearing aids. Finally, the foundation works to foster self-reliance in their patients by employing speech-language pathologists to track the progress of those who have received aid. The follow-up that this model provides ensures that impoverished people who are affected by hearing loss can continue to have access to the care they need for the rest of their lives.

How Individuals Can Help

The Starkey Hearing Foundation’s “Hear Now” program is a recycling initiative that makes it easy to get involved by donating old hearing aids, or even parts of old hearing aids. This program collects about 60,000 hearing aids per year which are then restored and redistributed to those who need them most.

If you don’t have a hearing aid or know anyone who does, you can still get involved by visiting the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s donation page. The page is extremely user-friendly and includes a guide showing what a given donated amount of money can do. For example, a $20 donation can provide one mold for a hearing aid, and a $70 donation will pay for a hearing aid replacement.

– Ryley Bright
Photo: Flickr

solar powered hearing aidsThere are 466 million people in the world who are deaf or living with disabling hearing loss, which amounts to more than 1 in 20 people worldwide. The majority of these people do not have the funds to buy hearing aids and the batteries required to keep them going. Currently, there are two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids in order to help those living in poverty to afford and power hearing aids.

Poverty and Hearing Aids

Approximately 89 percent of those who are hearing impaired live in low and middle-income countries. However, the production of hearing aids currently only meets around 10 percent of the need worldwide. Because traditional hearing aids are expensive, the majority of these hearing aids are going to those who can afford them. This typically means that people in developing countries are going without.

Traditional hearing aids typically cost around $1,000 and have an average battery life of only one to two weeks. Because of this huge financial barrier, solar-powered hearing aids are dramatically changing the accessibility of hearing aids for low-income people in developing countries. Even more importantly, they are cheaper and last longer than traditional hearing aids.

Godisa Technologies was a Botswana-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that began research on the solar-powered hearing aid in 1992. Godisa Technologies aimed to manufacture hearing aids that were accessible to those with hearing disabilities in Africa and throughout the developing world. Godisa Technologies shut down in 2008 due to a lack of funding, but its research led to two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Solar Ear and Deaftronics provide inexpensive and long-lasting hearing aids all across the developing world.

Solar Ear

Solar Ear is a solar-powered hearing aid company based out of Brazil. Solar Ear’s hearing aid was designed by Howard Weinstein, a former Peace Corps volunteer at Godisa Technologies. These hearing aids only cost around $100 and have a battery lifespan of around three years, which is approximately one-tenth of the price of traditional hearing aids for 150 times the lifespan.

Solar Ear designs their hearing aids specifically for young children living in regions without access to deaf education. Their mission is to provide solar-powered hearing aids to children before the age of three so that they can learn to communicate and receive an education alongside their hearing peers. The hearing aids are manufactured and produced by people with disabilities in Brazil, Botswana and China. They are now available in more than 40 countries.


Deaftronics is another company pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Deaftronics was created in 2009 by Tendekayi Katsiga, another former employee of Godisa Technologies. Katsiga, like Weinstein, knew that Godisa’s hearing aids were still too expensive for many people to afford and wanted to build a company that took this technology a step further.

Deaftronics provides solar-powered hearing aids along with four rechargeable batteries for $200. These hearing aids have an overall lifespan of up to twelve years. By 2015, Deaftronics had already sold more than 10,000 hearing aids to people in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa and Angola. But, Katsiga became convinced that solar-powered hearing aids alone could not be the only solution to hearing loss. In an attempt to provide a cheap and easy way to catch hearing loss early and prevent it from worsening, Deaftronics has also produced a mobile app that allows people to test for early signs of hearing loss.

Solar powered hearing aids have become readily accessible in many developing countries due to the dedication of Solar Ear and Deaftronics. These two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids have changed the world for those who previously could not afford them. The technology has been crucial in making hearing aids accessible to the world’s poor. Thanks to solar-powered hearing aids, children who would otherwise be unable to learn to talk or communicate are able to go to school and learn regardless of where they live or how much money their families have.

Macklyn Hutchison

Photo: Flickr

Childhood hearing loss is at an all-time high. The number of people with hearing impairments increased from 42 million in 1985 to 360 million in 2011. Hearing loss can be particularly hard on children since it affects the child’s ability to develop speech, language, and social skills. The WHO is working on treating childhood hearing loss, and here are some things to know about the condition.

Thirty-two million children are living with disabling hearing loss, and most of them are living in impoverished countries. More than 90 percent of chronic ear infections are in the Southeast Asian, Western Pacific, and African countries, as well as among the ethnic minorities of the Pacific Rim.

Three-quarters of children under fifteen years of age in low and middle-income countries have hearing loss that is preventable, but due to lack of access to healthcare, many children in impoverished countries do not get the luxury of treatment. Some examples of congenital causes of hearing loss, which are usually present before or during birth, are low birth weight, birth asphyxia, inappropriate use of drugs during pregnancy, or severe jaundice. Some causes of childhood hearing loss occur during the child’s lifetime and include infectious diseases like meningitis, measles, mumps, chronic ear infections, and collection of fluid in the ears. Chronic otitis, which describes any type of infection and inflammation in the middle ear, is one of the most common causes of childhood hearing loss.

There are many ways childhood hearing loss can be treated. If a baby younger than six months has signs of hearing loss, the baby should receive intervention right away. The earlier the intervention, the greater the improvement to a child’s development. Developing countries could also introduce more hearing aids, since only 10 percent are given the amount that they need.

There have been success stories about children being cured of their deafness. Recently, 16 Palestinian children were able to hear after Israeli doctors gave them cochlear implants. The Peres Center for Peace coordinated these 16 successful surgeries over the course of last year.

Since most hearing loss is preventable, how can people prevent their children from permanent ear damage? Providing better healthcare to impoverished countries can decrease the likelihood of children receiving ear infections that could result in hearing loss. Some precautionary measures include: immunizing children from diseases such as measles, meningitis, rubella, and mumps, immunizing mothers to prevent their unborn babies from receiving those diseases, providing hygienic practices including healthy ear care, screening children for otitis media and reducing exposure to loud noises.

Childhood hearing loss can be preventable and treatable if access to healthcare is provided.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

Celebrities Pose for 2017 Hear the World Calendar
For 85 percent of the world, hearing is a quality of life that is often taken for granted while the other 15 percent of the population envisions a future limited by disability. Every year, 665,000 children are born with hearing deficiencies, and those living in low-income countries are unable to receive the adequate treatment needed to aid hearing loss.

Hear the World was established in 2006 by Sonova. Its mission? Providing equal opportunities for individuals with hearing impairment. As 2016 comes to a close, the foundation marks its 10 year anniversary and has successfully donated over 100,000 hearing aids and has “supported 24 projects in 19 countries.”

One of Hear the World’s campaigns to raise money is their annual calendar featuring celebrities posing with one hand behind their ear as a symbol representing hearing awareness. The foundation has been recognized by the Guinness World Records for “the world’s largest photographic awareness campaign with 53 celebrity ambassadors.” The newly released 2017 Hear the World calendar, which sells for $40 with all proceeds benefiting the foundation, features celebrities such as Cindy Crawford, Jake Bugg and Linda Evangelista.

Though hearing loss is a global issue, impoverished countries experience it as more of a burden, especially children. According to research, “60 percent of childhood hearing loss is preventable” and yet, with the lack of resources in low-income countries, children are left untreated and their learning abilities are hindered. In countries such as Cambodia, hearing loss would be preventable without issues such as “incorrect treatment of middle ear infections, malaria drug overdose or acoustic trauma caused by landlines.” Such preventable situations drive the Hear the World Foundation to develop programs that equip countries with financial and audiological resources to help relieve the effects of hearing loss.

In 2015, Hear the World partnered with photographer Philipp Rathmer to implement a project in Malawi, Africa that allowed young people affected by hearing impairments to photograph their favorite sounds since receiving hearing aids. Some of the youth favored the sounds of local animals while others appreciated sounds of the manual labor that drives their local economy. Fifteen-year-old Pauline Mwanja says, “I like the sound of sewing machines because I know something nice will come out of it.” Because of Hear the World’s efforts toward providing hearing health awareness, the youth of Malawi have found joy in sound again just like Masautso Mwale who simply says, “I like to hear people call my name.” Not only has rehabilitated hearing brought joy to the Malawi people but they also have a newfound sense of appreciation for sounds which now hold a deeper significance.

By raising awareness about hearing disabilities that are prevalent in low-income countries, individuals living with hearing loss, especially children, are offered a better future with necessary resources. By purchasing the 2017 Hear the World calendar as a gift this holiday season for family and friends, it will be a gift to those in need, as well!

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr