The MoH’s hearing aid programme benefitting every region

The Health Ministry in response to a recent letter that accused the Health Ministry of taking its hearing aid programme to stronghold regions of the governing party stated that this accusation is mischievous.

In fact, hearing aids are being distributed to all regions of Guyana. Our hospitals have made a list of patients who can benefit from hearing aids. The writer of the letter is a patient at Bartica Hospital and he knows that his name is on the list of beneficiaries. The writer will receive his hearing aid once the audiological team visits the Bartica Hospital in the coming two weeks. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the letter writer chose to misrepresent the facts.
Hearing aids need fitting by trained technicians and calibration by technicians and audiologists. Guyana is not yet able to provide this trained person at every hospital. While the MoH is building capacity to ensure all hospitals have the relevant personnel, the outreach team is ensuring that all citizens benefit from audiological services.
The Ministry of Health has been aggressively advancing a number of programmes to improve people’s health and lifestyle. One of the flagship programmes focuses on diagnosing hearing loss among children and the elderly. The country’s capacity is still limited. The capacity building programme that started in 2004 to increase and expand the sector’s ability to provide access to hearing assessment and testing stagnated for a number of years. Since late 2020, the Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, and the Ministry of Health has been aggressively putting in place wider access to hearing assessment and testing.
But testing is only a part of the overall programme. Access to hearing aids is also a necessary part of the programme. Hearing aids’ availability in the public health sector was introduced in 2004 through a programme at the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre. At that time, it was introduced as a subsidised programme where patients were expected to contribute a part of the payment. For many persons, their contributions to hearing-aid access represented a barrier and they were supported on a case-by-case basis with further subsidy from the MoH.
Those patients who were diagnosed with hearing loss by the National Audiology Department of the GPHC which also conducted clinics in regional hospitals were referred to the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre for fitting and provision of the hearing aids. While the programme has helped thousands across the country over the years, the Government of Guyana (GoG) and the MoH recognised that many persons could not afford the subsidised cost. Compounding the problem was that the referred patients from some regions, like Regions One, Two, Seven, Eight, Nine, and from parts of Regions Three, Five, Six and 10 experienced costly travelling to Georgetown for fitting and provision of hearing aids.
This problem became even more burdensome, when for several years before 2020, the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre decided to remove the subsidy and used the provision of hearing aids as an income-generating programme, eliminating more persons from benefiting from the programme.
In early 2022, the Minister of Health, with a larger budgetary allocation in Budget 2022 and an expected increase in Budget 2023, made a number of changes. In 2021, the MoH instructed the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre to desist from using the hearing aid programme as a revenue-generating programme and resume the subsidised programme.
In 2022, the Minister of Health announced a new policy that established free access to hearing aids for public health sector patients. Up to this point, 220 hearing aids have been distributed in Regions Three, Four, Five, Six, Nine and 10. Regions One, Two, Seven and Eight are scheduled for the next several weeks. In fact, Bartica is scheduled for the next two weeks. By the end of 2022, more than 300 persons would have received free-of-cost hearing aids. The MoH is expecting to increase the 2022 distribution by greater than 100 per cent in 2023. In 2022, almost $15 million was allocated for hearing aid procurement. In 2023, this will increase significantly.
The audiological team is conducting outreaches to all regions to ensure that as many persons across the country have access to hearing aids. The MoH’s goal is that everyone with hearing loss is able to receive the gift of hearing, thereby empowering them to live productive lives and achieve their potential. While the elderly population is targeted for benefits, the programme is also prioritising young children, particularly school children. In addition to a school eye care programme, the MoH is introducing a school-based hearing health programme in 2023.