Cochlear implant in Myanmar; going against the nature is a simple but hard effort

9 January 2019                                                                                                   

Myanmar had its first deaf person with hearing implant in 2010 and now the technology is claimed to elevate the life of the deaf persons to another cognitive level.                                                  

Some students with cochlear implant are now going to mainstream school and learning together with other non-disabled students.

A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted neuroprosthetic device that provides a sense of sound to a person with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants bypass the normal acoustic hearing process, instead replacing it with electric hearing. Namely, the sound sensation comes from the sound that is converted to electric signals which directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The brain adapts to the new mode of hearing, and eventually can interpret the electric signals as sound and speech.

“I got to be familiar with this technology in 2003. I got to know the hearing implant from the kid and his parent. And later on, I started training other kids. And in 2007, I accompanied the kid who went to undergo the operation in Singapore. We went to the Singapore General Hospital. The auditory verbal therapist from the hospital taught me a lot. So I happened to go on 8 follow-up visits to the hospital. It was like once a month. The kid had to go there regularly to adjust, in the technical term, the mapping. That’s how I got familiar with the cochlear implant technology,” said a teacher who trains the deaf kids with hearing implant at Mary Chapman School for the Deaf in Yangon.

In 2010, A team of German and Myanmar doctors has conducted the country’s official first cochlear implant operations.

The operations were conducted at the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital in Yangon from November 1 to 3 and were sponsored by a German non-government organisation and cochlear implant company.

According to research conducted by the hospital, 11 percent of the population is hearing impaired, with about 1pc severely or profoundly deaf.

The teacher also added, “Cochlear implants for congenitally deaf children are considered to be most effective when implanted at a young age, during the critical period in which the brain is still learning to interpret sound.”

Much of the strongest objection to cochlear implants has come from within the Deaf community, some of whom are pre-lingually Deaf people whose first language is a sign language. For some in the Deaf community, cochlear implants are an affront to their culture, which, as they view it, is a minority threatened by the hearing majority.

U Nanda Kyaw, a father of the kid with cochlear implant said “ We are from Bago Region, Pyin Pone Gyee Village and, 2 years with the device now. I am happy to see my child can speak about colors, environment and accessories and utensils. Sometimes we show them stuffs to my child and we teach what is what.”

The price for a pair of cochlear implant device is US $8,500 and the cost for the whole operation amounts to around K1 million.

More than 50 patients have undergone the implant surgery at the Yangon’s Victoria Hospital with other unreported operations in the country.

And the operation is conducted for the patients under the funded program due to the cost for the operation is highly-unaffordable for many deaf people in Myanmar who earned low-income.

Full statistics are not available concerning the implant recipients due to poor documenting and reporting.

Arker Kyaw