Global WACh

February 23, 2021

Researchers receive award to explore low-cost hearing testing technology for universal hearing screening for children in Kenya

Dr. Irene Njuguna, Dr. Dalton Wamalwa, Dr. Sarah Benki-Nugent, Dr. Grace-John-Stewart

Being hearing impaired as a child can be an uphill struggle on top of the usual trials and tribulations of growing up, learning to make friends, and attending school.  Globally, approximately 34 million children, many living in sub-Saharan Africa, have disabling hearing loss resulting from head trauma, illness, exposure to loud noises, or certain medical treatments.  Early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent children from enduring delays in speech, language, social, and academic development.  Due largely to the prohibitive cost of hearing screening equipment (~$7,000 for what is considered standard equipment), hearing screening is rarely conducted in children.

With grant funding from a UW Global Innovation Fund Award, Global WACh researchers and faculty in the Department of Global Health, Dr. Irene Njuguna, Dr. Dalton Wamalwa, Dr. Sarah Benki-Nugent, and Dr. Grace John-Stewart are part of a cross-college and cross-continental team that will explore the use of newly developed smartphone-based technology to assess hearing and evaluate the function of the ear in children in Kenya. This technology has the potential for scalability because of its lower cost and potential to be conducted by non-specialist staff in resource-limited settings.

In addition to piloting the technology this year, the team plans to engage in stakeholder activities, such as workshops and trainings, to determine what evidence is needed to support a nationwide pediatric hearing screening program and to build a research agenda around pediatric hearing disabilities in Kenya.

This innovative project can open the door for resource-limited countries to discover emerging affordable and portable hearing screening technologies and to transform hearing interventions that can greatly improve the quality of life for children.

Collaborators include Dr.  Brent Collett (Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences), Dr. Shyam Gollakota and Justin Chan (Computer Science and Engineering), Dr. Emily Gallagher and Dr. Randall Bly (Seattle Children’s Hospital).