Ethiopia is a country with over 100 million people, boasting a size twice that of Texas. In keeping with many countries in Sub Saharan Africa, Ethiopia has a chronic lack of hospitals and doctors, particularly hearing care professionals. Witnessing this need first hand after traveling to the country, Dr. Miriam Redleaf, a neurotologist at the University of Illinois Hospital and expert in otology, started the Ethio American Hearing Project.
The organization works to provide education and support in Ethiopia to help in the growth of the community’s ear and hearing services. They travel to Ethiopia several times a year to provide instruction in ear surgery, perform hearing tests, and fit hearing aids to those in need. The Oticon Hearing Foundation recently donated 20 hearing aids to their mission.
Dr. Gabrielle Cager, an audiologist at the University of Illinois Hospital and the director of Audiology for the Ethio-American Hearing Project, shared the importance of sustainability and how the only way to achieve that is to have education and training in place.
“The focus should be making sure they can do these things themselves so they can provide these services to their people.” – Gabrielle Cager, Au.D.
To provide sustainable solutions, the Ethio American Hearing Project has started otology and audiology training programs. Essential elements of the otology program involve hands-on operative experience supervised by trained otologists, introduction to audiometry, hearing aids and cochlear implantation, and frequent face-to-face assessments. The three fellows have recently graduated and two more are currently in training.
The newest program, an audiology training program, now has over 20 students from different parts of Ethiopia completing online training courses. The first group started their studies in January of this year and will be finished by the end of 2019. Equipment such as laptops, audiometers, tympanometers, internet access, IT support, and transportation to certain training sites were all donated. The ultimate goal of this program is to provide training, testing and rehabilitative services at these different training sites, and have these graduates train the next wave of students.
Building off of this new program which will bring sustainable audiological services to a country that currently has none, the Ethio American Hearing Project is also in the process of starting the first degree based audiology program with Mekelle University in Ethiopia in 2019.
While this first round of audiology training graduates will be focused on adults, Dr. Cager hopes that there will be a select group that afterward can focus on pediatrics. She has traveled to Ethiopia several times to volunteer and visit students of the program, and as an audiologist specializing in pediatrics, she has seen how hearing loss and lack of early intervention in Ethiopia is affecting children and their families.
“Children aren’t being identified with hearing loss until they are six or seven, which means so much time has passed and they don’t have language development.” – Gabrielle Cager, Au.D.
Through ongoing education and community development, the Ethio American Hearing Project has the potential to evoke positive and lasting change in Ethiopia’s local communities and surrounding areas, because as Dr. Cager mentioned, “hearing loss doesn’t have to be something that keeps you from working or living your life.”