Each summer, students and faculty with the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Heart of Hearing Humanitarian Research and Service Program go to a different country or region to provide free hearing services to underserved populations.
The paradigm for the program is characterized by four elements:
- joining forces with audiologists, faculty, and students in the countries visited to provide humanitarian services;
- connecting with professional organizations in these countries to learn more about their hearing healthcare systems;
- engaging in cultural immersion activities to gain a better understanding of the people living in the visited countries; and
- publishing our findings in professional magazines and peer-reviewed journals to raise awareness of hearing healthcare needs in underserved populations.
Our humanitarian trips usually last for two weeks between the spring and summer semesters. We traveled to Taiwan in 2010, Hong Kong in 2011, Brazil in 2012, and China in 2013.
On these trips, we bring our own testing and calibration equipment. In each testing site, we usually perform otoscopy, tympanometry, and distortion product otoacoustic emissions tests at the first testing station.
Individuals who fail any of these tests or have absent otoacoustic emissions at three of the six tested frequencies are referred to the second station for pure tone testing. For those with special needs, we usually conduct behavioral observation audiometry or play audiometry.
At the end of the tests, we generate a list of individuals who need further audiological attention and make their needs known to their parents or guardians and their caregivers. If possible, our partnering organizations also provide follow-up services.
We collaborated with audiologists, faculty, and students at National Women's League Foundation for the Hearing Impaired, Chung Shan Medical University, and National Kaohsiung Normal University in Taiwan in 2010; the University of Hong Kong Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences in 2011; the University of São Paulo in Bauru, Brazil, in 2012; and Beijing Hearing Society in 2013.
Together we tested 670 children and adults with special needs, 66 older adults, 56 children in an orphanage, 69 children and adults who were HIV-positive or had AIDS, 54 adults living in three recreational drug rehabilitation cen-ters, and 850 students enrolled in primary to high schools in impoverished areas.
Most populations we tested had higher rates of excessive earwax, hearing-related problems, and hearing loss, except for children in the orphanage and adults in the drug rehabilitation centers.
For professional exchange activities, we visited our partner organizations and different audiology facilities, such as hospitals, nonprofit organizations, private practices, and university audiology programs. We were very grateful for the opportunities to observe cochlear implant, rhinology, and cleft palate surgeries.
Immersion opportunities are also scheduled for these action-packed trips. We toured landmarks as well as participated in cultural activities. Whenever possible, we used public transportation and tasted local cuisines.
After returning to the United States, students made online scrapbooks with details of the experience. In addition, we published information on the hearing healthcare systems in the visited countries, brief descriptions of our trips, and results from our testing in professional magazines.
Further, we analyzed the data and wrote manuscripts to be considered for publication in peer-reviewed journals. These publications serve to prolong the impact and endurance of our trips.
The long-term goals of these efforts are to build up a large body of literature—along with other researchers in the field—and to facilitate better quality and more frequent hearing healthcare services for underserved populations around the world.
We continue to collaborate with our previous partners in future missions and welcome their students. Chung Shan Medical University and University of São Paulo both have sent students to NIU for short-term academic exchange activities. We also plan to develop joint missions to other countries.
Going forward, we will continue to form new allies and strengthen our ties with previous partners to form a worldwide web of university-based humanitarian programs.
We would like to thank our partners in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Brazil, and our sponsors Oticon, Etymotic Research, and EBSCO for the generous help and support that make these trips possible.
Audiology Without Borders
Our Audiology Without Borders column, featured each month in the HJ eNewsletter, 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.
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