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A Global Approach to Pediatric Hearing Loss in Vietnam

Stringer, Paige

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000421169.56008.e9

Ms. Stringer is the founder and executive director of the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss in Seattle, WA.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss has grounded its Vietnam Deaf Education Program on the famous quote, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This has been the foundation's barometer for success since it was established in 2009, helping children around the world access the education, hearing technology, and professional support they need to reach their full potential.

I was born with profound hearing loss, but benefited from early identification and timely intervention services that ensured development of my listening and speaking abilities and successful assimilation into mainstream schools and the hearing community. I created this foundation to help children with hearing loss, particularly in developing countries, have access to the support that I was fortunate to have.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The foundation is currently working in Vietnam where it has developed the multifaceted Vietnam Deaf Education Program in collaboration with the Thuan An Hearing Impaired Center and the National University of Ho Chi Minh City. It involves 38 schools for the deaf across 20 provinces and two hospitals to empower the hearing loss support network so children can make the best use of hearing technology and develop listening and spoken language skills.

The Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training estimated that 180,000 children under 18 have hearing loss. Hearing screening programs are not common, so the actual number of children who are hearing impaired is likely higher. Vietnam only recently began providing education and resources to professionals, teachers, and families who work with or have hearing-impaired children. Audiology and speech pathology are in the early stages of development. Early intervention and auditory verbal practice are still relatively new concepts. The universities do not offer master's degrees in speech and hearing sciences or deaf education. The undergraduate curriculums offer introductions to special education, but teachers who work specifically with hearing-impaired children have requested more training to better prepare them for their work.

The foundation's Vietnam Deaf Education Program is an integrated model that includes summer training programs, hearing aid distribution, and mobile missions (on-site visits to participating schools and hospitals during the year). Our summer training intensives span audiology, speech pathology, early intervention, and auditory verbal deaf education. Participants travel from the 38 schools and two hospitals to engage in instruction customized for parents, teachers, doctors, medical teams, audiotechnicians, and other professionals who work with or have hearing-impaired children.

The foundation's 30 volunteer professionals in speech and hearing sciences and auditory verbal deaf education come from the United States, Hong Kong, Canada, and Singapore. Members of the team work together throughout the year to develop the summer curriculum and then travel to Vietnam to teach the material. Smaller teams visit the schools and hospitals in our program during the year to reinforce the summer's lessons within the participants' classrooms and centers.

Our hearing aid distribution efforts are built into the clinical aspect of our audiology training program. The Vietnamese participants work with families to test children's hearing and fit hearing aids with support from the foundation's audiologists. This clinic is just one part of the larger audiology training that is transferring expertise to audiology training participants so they are prepared to provide ongoing support. We are ensuring the lasting benefit of our hearing aid distribution efforts by focusing on the training rather than the number of hearing aids we fit. The audiology program is one important piece in the puzzle that we are trying to put together to ensure that Vietnamese children with hearing loss have the professional support, technology, and education they need to be successful in utilizing their hearing aids and to learn to listen and talk.

Figure 3

Figure 3

We have successfully executed three summer training workshops and two mobile missions since 2010. We have trained more than 190 teachers, 220 families, and 120 medical and other professionals, and have fit children with 246 hearing aids. Our Vietnam Deaf Education Program is positively affecting the lives of more than 900 hearing-impaired children across 20 provinces. We continue to teach Vietnamese professionals and families, and can evaluate the children because we work with the same group of participants over time. Each summer program includes quantitative and qualitative assessments, allowing us to adjust programming needs and measure progress. We encourage participants to share their learning with others in their communities, making our efforts exponential and sustainable.

The foundation is expanding in other areas to support hearing-impaired children in Vietnam and, to extend the fishing analogy, we are looking at why there are not enough fishermen in the first place and helping to resolve this. The program has increased awareness of what is possible for hearing-impaired children. Knowledge growth through our training initiatives the past two years has helped empower Vietnamese residents to recognize service gaps in their country and work together as a community to address those gaps. The Vietnamese government has asked for more data on pediatric hearing loss and programs to help shape healthcare policy and ensure the success of its inclusive education initiative.

Growing awareness and interest in early learning programs, including early intervention for children with disabilities, is evident. The foundation in light of these trends is exploring education research, pilot programs in hearing screening, and telehealth to promote early intervention and identification of hearing loss. The Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss is helping to instill lasting change for hearing-impaired children and their families in Vietnam by taking a global view of pediatric hearing loss and working with our Vietnamese partners across health and education.

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