The 2009 census put the number of people living with disability at 1,330,312 or 3.5 per cent of the country’s population. Of that number, 366,811 were deaf and 236,491 had speech disability.
The number of the deaf has since risen to 800,000, according to the Kenya National Association of the Deaf.
Deaf people in Kenya can learn sign language to communicate. However, there are those who have a good shot at hearing and are only hampered by funds to undergo corrective surgeries.
According to Dr Samuel Nyaga, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Kenyatta National Hospital lack of hearing could be congenital or acquired. “Congenital means one is born deaf. When this happens, it could be hereditary (the result of defective genes) or acquired through intrauterine infections like syphilis and rubella during pregnancy,” he said. He said lack of hearing could also be acquired during life through infections like measles, chicken pox, malaria, meningitis, or even ear infections. In many cases, acquired hearing loss is preventable, he said.
Congenital deafness, Dr Nyaga said, could be corrected through surgery: cochlear implant.
“The surgery is quite expensive but worth it: a child grows and attends school normally, thereby becoming a productive member of the society,” he said.
And now, more than 240 deaf people across the country are set to benefit from free ear surgeries supported by Safaricom Foundation.
“We want to improve the lives of Kenyans by giving those who can’t hear the ability to hear,” said Stephen Chege, a trustee of the foundation.
The surgeries, to be conducted in partnership with Operation Ear Drop Kenya (OED), will particularly target needy children with hearing impairment that require surgery but adults are also expected to benefit.
Patrick Kikonzo Musava, a Form Two, is a beneficiary of free ear surgeries. Patrick’s father expressed gratitude to OED, saying he would not have been able to raise money for the treatment.
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“My son qualified for the surgery and we thank God,” he said. “This will help him improve in his school performance now that he can hear.”
Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development says about 200,000 Kenyan children have impaired hearing. Of these, only 8,000 are enrolled in deaf schools.
At least 54 people in Nanyuki have confirmed surgeries. The area was selected to benefit due to lack of capacity for the referral hospital to conduct ear surgeries.
Prof Isaac Macharia, the head of medical committee at OED in Kenya, says: “We continue to seek more partnerships in every outreach in order to reduce the cost per outreach.”
The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 360 million people globally with disabling hearing loss. Close to 91 per cent or 328 million are adults while the rest are children. Dr Nyaga said some subtle and unsuspecting lifestyle habits may cause deafness. “Use of ear buds and other objects that can cause infections and trauma to the ear is dangerous,” he said. “But we also have exposure to loud noise through gadgets like ear phones as well as industrial noise, especially jua kali exposure to loud noise without the use of ear muffs.” Among children, immunisation against childhood diseases is touted as one of the major prevention methods against infections that lead to hearing loss.