By Tom Chiahemen

The Management of Zenith Medical & Kidney Centre, Abuja, is set to end the era of Nigerians with hearing loss challenges spending hard currencies to travel outside the country in search of cure.

To this end, the medical centre is collaborating with foreign partners including MED-EL, an Austria-based global medical technology company specializing in hearing implants and devices, to carry out the treatment of patients with hearing loss in Abuja.

Already, over five successful cochlear implant surgeries have been successfully performed at the medical facility, located in the serene Gudu District of the nation’s capital, according to Consultant Nepirologist and Medical Director/CEO of the hospital, Dr. Olatise Olalekan.

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted neuroprosthesis that provides a person who has moderate-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss with sound perception. It is a small electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve (nerve for hearing).

The implant has external and internal parts. The external part sits behind the ear and it picks up sounds with a microphone. It then processes the sound and transmits it to the internal part of the implant.

With the help of therapy, cochlear implants may allow for improved speech understanding in both quiet and noisy environments, according to Wikipedia.

Dr. Olalekan, who spoke to journalists at the weekend on this major medical feat, however called on the Nigerian Government to put in place a policy that would support patients with hearing loss to undergo treatment and re-unite with the society as it is done in many other countries.

Dr. Olalekan

Describing the successful performance of the surgeries as a welcome development in Nigeria, Olalekan noted that in 2020, Zenith Medical & Kidney Centre had five cochlear implants for patients who had defects supported by the same company MED-EL, adding that though the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the hospital down a little, “we are back on track and I’m hopeful that this is a welcome development for Nigeria especially knowing that these health problems will need to be sorted out in country.”

“I have always been one person who believes that we can get these things done here in our country so that we have our Nigerians having medical procedures and surgeries the comfort of their country with support of their family members instead of travelling out of the country to have these surgeries,” he said.

He stressed that the hospital was not just known for kidney transplantation but that it was also going to carve a niche in this area of solving problems.

“Nigerians with deafness will be able to hear again. They’ll be integrated back into society; they need to have normal life; they will have to go to school for the children and then for the other two, they’ll be able to hear and mingle as citizens of the country. So, moving forward, we ensure that this procedure will become a routine for us here at any medical and kidney center,” said Dr Olalekan.

Also speaking during the briefing, Prof Adoga Agida Samuel, consultant ENT Surgeon with the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), who is on leave of absence to set up ENT Cochlear implant at Zenith Medical & Kidney Centre), described hearing loss as a very important issue and a global problem.

He explained that there were different types of hearing loss as it affects the quality of life, adding that the treatment of such cases also varies, depending on the type of hearing loss.

Prof Adoga

Prof Adoga said the team at Zenith Medical & Kidney Centre was concerned with “profound hearing loss which is otherwise known as deafness” which, according to him, “has serious implications for families.”

“So, for this purpose, we are here for the treatment of the profound hearing loss. Deafness and the technology used for that is called cochlear implant – a device that restores hearing and gives hope to the individual.

“More than 400,000 people have been implanted and the advancement in this procedure management of patients varies from place to place because it is an expensive way of treating people though is very good so there is the need for support from governments and other agencies. That support is very important for Nigeria to give support to patients.

“Many countries support in financing this project by way of health insurance and so it’s an opportunity to call on government and well-meaning individuals to be supportive in this cause.

A lot is about to happen here and in fact I’ve started one of such implants here. It contributes to governance and life as a whole and many other specialties are coming thanks to the support for the chief medical director and chief executive of the company.

“We have international collaborators and local collaborators because we cannot carry this all alone. We need skill development; we need education and we also need to learn from them and they’re very helpful. They are here for a purpose and we are going to hit the ground on a very high note so that we have to stop traveling out of here to take resources outside. I think it’s better to bring them in here on ground with us.

On her part, the Business Development & Regional Manager Africa, MED-EL HQ, Austria, Stephanie Unterrieder, said her company as the leading provider for hearing implant solutions worldwide, offers various types of innovative solutions and products to its recipients concerning various types and the uses of hearing loss.

“The mission of MED-EL is to overcome hearing loss as a barrier to communication and quality of life,” she stated.

“This week, we have been here with the team at Zenith Medical Center for another round of cochlear implantation to two children and one adult,” she said.

She noted that the cochlear implants, which were for severe to profound hearing loss, remained the only device that could restore hearing, adding, “it is really capable and able to bring back a sense of hearing to a patient which would be completely deaf otherwise.”

“So, you can see, of course, that for these individuals, but also for the families and the society as a whole, the cochlear implant is highly important because those people can be brought back as complete productive and normal members of the society – in children going to normal school and going maybe to the university to starting a normal career and for adults of course that have been suffering from peeling your deafness fully enjoying again the joy of hearing,” Stephanie Unterrieder said.

According to her, “MED-EL is the key provider for hearing implants solutions and we have been working in Nigeria for many years and now we are really hitting another stage – another area, where we provide training activities beyond our core business that concerns screening activities, awareness raising activities to really enable more access to the hearing technologies the patients are in need of.”

She expressed delight about the cooperation, saying “I’m happy to support that in all further stages that are needed to really bring that technology to the people because hearing loss and especially deafness is an invisible thing so you would not see it from outside immediately, however it affects largely the individual.”

Other members of the team include Alexander Olasik, Clinical Engineer, Clinical Support, Med-El HQ; Dr Barnabas Bem Vangerwua, Audiologist, Nigerbell Group; Dr Mohammed Garba Mainasara, Associate Professor/Consultant ENT Surgeon, Partner MED-EL in Nigeria and; Audu Modu, Head of ENT Unit, Bingham University Teaching Hospital, Jos

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