In Nepal, ear disease and deafness are the most common disabilities. While it's not clear exactly why that's the case, a combination of factors, including poor living conditions, frequent upper respiratory infections during childhood, smoke and dust in the home, nutritional deficiencies, and lack of adequate knowledge about care and treatment of the early stages of infection, is probably to blame.
The absence of medical facilities in remote parts of the mountainous country and the costs of care must also play a part.
There is only one ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon for every 600,000 people in Nepal, and just one audiologist for every 6,000,000 people. As a result, untreated ear disease can cause serious problems, including severe pain and life-threatening infections.
In addition, people may not be able to provide for their families if they cannot hear well enough to hold down a job.
The charity Ear Aid Nepal works to treat those in Nepal who have ear problems and to teach others how to do the same. Our passion is to reach those who live in relatively poor situations, where obtaining treatment may seem like an impossible dream.
EAR CAMPS IN REMOTE AREAS
One way that Ear Aid Nepal has been responding to the need for care is through Ear Camps held in some of the remotest areas of Nepal (see map on this page: bit.ly/EAN-map).
The Ear Camps were started by volunteers working as part of the International Nepal Fellowship (INF)’s Hospitals Assistance Program in the village of Beni in 1993. Since then, we have grown from a small group of Christians to hundreds of volunteers from different backgrounds.
Patients continue to come to the camps, often presenting with severe disease and profound levels of deafness. Over the years, we have seen and treated tens of thousands of patients, operated on about 3,500, and fitted many hundreds of hearing aids. At our last camp, we saw about 1,200 patients, half of whom were children.
The help of hundreds of volunteers from the United Kingdom and other countries has made this work possible. We focus on the small local hospitals and health centers in the hills and mountains of the three western regions of Nepal. Local services and aid agencies are thinly spread, and specialist treatment is rarely available.
At a 2013 camp in the remote area of Chainpur, we met Durga Lal Thapa, a 50-year-old Nepali woman, who told us she had never been to school (bit.ly/EAN-ChainpurCamp).
She lives in a farming village with her three sons and husband, but she cannot communicate with them due to her hearing loss. As a result, every day she just cooks, cleans, and sleeps, she said. She traveled for 14 hours by bus from her remote home to reach the camp.
After Ms. Thapa was assessed, she had surgery on her right ear and was given a bone conduction hearing aid for her left ear. She told us the hearing aid helped her immediately and that she is very, very happy because it will stop her from being so isolated.
HOSPITAL AND TREATMENT CENTER
In addition to continuing the Ear Camps, we want to establish a center to support them, provide better local care and good follow-up treatment, and offer training and education.
The first steps toward building this center, called the INF Ear Hospital and Treatment Center (IEHTC), were taken during a ceremony in November 2013 with the laying of the foundation stones.
At the specialty center, we will coordinate Ear Camp efforts as well as reach out to the local community through primary ear care workers, teach local medics about ear problems and treatments, and provide audiology training and services. Other agencies are starting to do this type of work, but there is still much to be done.
We hope that expert volunteers not only will continue to come and help with the Ear Camps but also will be willing to teach and work in the planned center and from their home countries. Our vision is for a small but first-class center that uses equipment, treatments, and techniques appropriate for developing countries and conducts further research in those areas.
The International Nepal Fellowship has generously allocated a suitable and attractive plot of land near the Green Pastures Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Pokhara, Nepal, for the IEHTC. The architectural plans use ecologically sound energy sources and make the single-story building earthquake resistant (bit.ly/EAN-building).
We have much equipment stored and ready for shipping but are still seeking some further specialty material.
It is an exciting time of fund-raising and making plans. We have a new website to support the ear hospital and ear camps (earaidnepal.org) and would love to hear from anyone interested in helping out or learning more.
Audiology Without Borders
Our monthly Audiology Without Borders column highlights humanitarian hearing healthcare programs.
The column is edited by active humanitarians Jackie Clark, PhD, and King Chung, PhD. Dr. Clark is a clinical associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and a research scholar at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg; and Dr. Chung is an associate professor of audiology at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Let us know about your humanitarian program! Send the details to HJ@wolterskluwer.com—manuscripts should be about 1,000 words, and photographs are also welcome (300 dpi in jpg, tif, or gif format).
Read past Audiology Without Borders columns in a special collection at bit.ly/HJAudWB.