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Program’s success is loud and clear

Just five years ago only ‘at risk’ newborns were screened for hearing impairment.

Today every baby born at a Queensland maternity hospital undergoes hearing screening thanks to the Healthy Hearing Program.

The Healthy Hearing Program was implemented in October 2004 when Mater Mothers’ Hospitals joined forces with Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital, The Townsville Hospital and Queensland Health to provide universal newborn hearing screening. Since then, the program has been progressively rolled out across the state.

It now boasts a 99 per cent capture rate. Prior to universal screening the average age for detection of a hearing loss in Australia was between 2.5 and three years and only about 50 per cent of babies with a hearing loss were detected at an early age.

Up to 100 babies are born in Queensland each year with serious hearing problems and today these are almost always detected by newborn screening.

To celebrate five years of operation for the Healthy Hearing Program, in October 2009 Mater hosted a special showcase presentation on the program’s outcomes to date.

A panel of experts were gathered for the presentation, including Healthy Hearing Paediatrician Dr Alison Harris, Audiologist Nuala Beahan, Otolaryngologist Dr Fiona Panizza, Psychologist Bronwyn McLellan and Statewide Healthy Hearing Coordinator Shirley Glennon.

“Hearing loss is the most common congenital abnormality,” Otolaryngologist, Dr Fiona Panizza explained in her address.

“If hearing problems are detected early and intervention occurs prior to six months of age, it has been found that babies have improved health, speech and language outcomes.”

Between October 2004 and December 2009, approximately 42 547 babies were screened at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals.

Just under 20 per cent of babies referred to audiology through the Healthy Hearing Program have a permanent hearing loss (PHL).

Dr Pannizza spoke about the need for ongoing hearing loss screening, despite the effectiveness of neonatal screening.

“Approximately six per cent of children will develop hearing loss later and 10―20 per cent of unilateral losses will progress to bilateral,” Dr Panizza said.

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