With about 1 in 1000 born with severe to profound hearing loss and about 5 in 1000 with lesser degrees of loss, congenital deafness is the commonest major birth defect. It is the recommended standard that hearing loss in newborns be detected by 3 months of age and intervention implemented by 6 months of age. Delayed detection and intervention may affect speech, language and psychosocial development, resulting in poor academic achievements. Universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS) is the only effective way of detecting all babies with hearing loss, within the recommended time frame. A survey in Singapore revealed that traditional childhood hearing screening programmes resulted in late detection (mean age, 20.8 months; range, 0 to 86 months) and late intervention (mean age, 42.4 months; range, 1 to 120 months). Increasingly, UNHS is becoming standard medical care in developed countries. In Singapore, UNHS has been implemented in all hospitals with obstetric services. Although a screening rate of more than 99% has been achieved in public hospitals, private hospitals have a screening rate of only about 77%. Parents’ awareness and acceptance of early detection is still lacking, and this needs to be addressed by appropriate public education. Support from obstetricians and paediatricians will significantly contribute towards this objective. Effective programme management is essential; this includes the use of data management systems, the maintenance of a team of experienced screeners, and efficient coordination between screening and diagnostic services. Early detection of childhood deafness, together with early and effective intervention, maximises the chances of successful integration into mainstream education and society.
About 1 in 1000 newborns have severe to profound hearing loss and about 5 in 1000 have lesser degrees of loss,1 which suggests that it is the most frequently occurring major birth defect. Unfortunately, for many babies, this disability remains undetected until it is too late to prevent undesirable and often irreversible damage.
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