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The project #HearSouthAfrica uses modern cost-efficient technology to screen children in need for hearing loss in low-income regions.

Cape Town, South Africa / Staefa, Switzerland, July 2018 - One of South Africa’s biggest challenges is the huge gap between rich and poor and the missing access to health care for people in need. In order to make hearing healthcare accessible for children living in Townships, the hearX Group developed a hearing screening app for laypersons to conduct screenings in the field. The aim of their project is to test the hearing of 10,000 children by 2019 and to build capacity for audiological follow-up care. The Swiss Hear the World Foundation supports the project with funding, technology and expertise until the project receives support from government.

In South Africa, hearing screenings for schoolchildren have been required by law, by means of the Integrated School Health Programme since 2012, for the early identification of hearing loss and to offer intervention care. This is important because children with untreated hearing loss have difficulties learning to speak and this is a major barrier to educational success. The programme’s implementation however, has proven to be impossible in many regions where audiological equipment and trained experts are hard to come by. South Africa on average has 2.4 audiologists per 100,000 residents – compared to Great Britain’s average of 16.4. “Our aim was to make the process simple enough for a layperson to facilitate screening with minimal training. Results show there is no difference in test accuracy between an experienced audiologist and a person with limited digital skills trained on our solution” says hearX Group CEO, Nic Klopper.

Screening in South Africa’s Townships
The South African start-up hearX Group is addressing this need: its smartphone app hearScreen, developed at the University of Pretoria, is designed for laypersons to conduct hearing screenings without knowledge of audiology or any bulky equipment. Apart from building easy access to hearing care, it also reduces screening costs by 50 to 70 percent. The app has since July 2017 been used in several low-income townships, namely; Soshonguve, Refilwe, Mamelodi, Atteridgeville, Eersterust, Laudium, Hammanskraal and Tembisa near Johannesburg with around 1.4 million inhabitants, and Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, with around 2.5 million inhabitants. The aim of the project is to test the hearing of 10,000 children by March 2019 in the Cape Town region alone.

Locals employed without audiological knowledge
The hearing tests are carried out by locals due to their cultural understanding of the townships, the opportunity for job creation, their vigilance in sometime potentially dangerous scenarios and their extensive knowledge of African languages. For these community members it means a lot: contributing to their community and a way out of unemployment. After a short training session on how to use the app and headphones, they can already carry out the screenings themselves without any prior audiology knowledge.

Hearing aids and follow-up care for children
After the screenings and in case a child is diagnosed with hearing loss, a second test is carried out with the hearTest app to confirm the first result. Once a child has failed both of these tests, they are referred to a local audiologist. In case a state healthcare programme can’t provide hearing aids in due time, the child receives a hearing aid provided by the Hear the World Foundation – the main donor of the project, for the time until the child receives hearing aids by the state healthcare programme. This ensures the earliest possible intervention and treatment of hearing loss for children in need.

Support by Swiss Hear the World Foundation
The project is partnered by the Hear the World Foundation until the project gains the support from the South African government. The Swiss foundation supports the project with funding for the screening project, hearing aids for children in need for the earliest possible treatment of their hearing loss and by sending volunteers to fit the donated hearing aids in the week of July 16 to 20, 2018 at Carel du Toit Centre in Cape Town. The Carel du Toit is an audiological centre providing hearing health care such as hearing tests, hearing aid fittings, speech therapy to children in need and another partner of the project. The Hear the World Foundation will be visiting the centre together with the German singer-songwriter and ambassador for conscious hearing to the foundation - Gregor Meyle. Meyle will sing with children with hearing loss, motivating them to develop language skills and giving them hope for their future.

Future intention: to win government support
Aiming for long-term success beyond the above mentioned regions, the project team, in cooperation with Prof. De Wet Swanepoel from the University of Pretoria, are systematically gathering research results from the app. With the data they attempt to convince the South African government of the project’s importance, and of the major role it can play in helping to achieve age-appropriate child development.

About the hearX Group
hearX Group (Pty) Ltd is an award-winning startup with the mission of providing affordable access to healthcare using digital health solutions that anyone can use, anywhere. Their primary value is social impact to reach people who traditionally do not have access to hearing healthcare. The hearX Group offers the world’s first clinically valid smartphone hearing solutions with the aim to provide healthy hearing to everyone, everywhere.

This has been achieved by developing smartphone technologies that enables a layperson to conduct a hearing test remotely, only needing access to the screening device. In many African countries, the general awareness of hearing loss is low, and the severe shortage of health professionals and prohibitively expensive equipment has caused a lack of screening programs, resulting in most people being unable to access hearing healthcare.

About the Hear the World Foundation
Founded in 2006 by Sonova, the leading provider of hearing solutions, the Hear the World Foundation actively commits to people in need with hearing loss all around the world and is also involved in prevention. It facilitates projects that benefit children in particular, so that they can achieve age-appropriate development. Since its founding, this non-profit Swiss foundation has supported over 90 aid projects in 39 countries by providing funds, hearing technology and expertise from its own resources. More than 100 celebrity ambassadors, including stars like Bryan Adams, Cindy Crawford, Plácido Domingo, Annie Lennox and Sting, support the Hear the World Foundation www.hear-the-world.com

For any further information please contact:

hearX Group
Tanya Boretti
E-Mail: tanya@hearxgroup.com
Phone: +27 (0)12 030 0268

Hear the World Foundation
Louise Sen
E-Mail: louise.kaben@hear-the-world.com
Phone: +41 79 560 26 94