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The gift of hearing for children in Panama

Help for children affected by hearing loss in Panama

For many years, Sonova's Hear the World Foundation has partnered with the Fundaciòn pro Integraciòn (Funproi) in Panama to donate hearing aids and provide local assistance with fitting them. Funproi has now won an award for its commitment.

Not everyone in Panama is privileged enough to benefit from this nation's booming economy. Many of the country's children and young people are living in poverty. If they are also affected by hearing loss, their chances of eventual self-sufficiency and better financial circumstances are drastically reduced.

Hearing health is now accorded higher priority in the Panamanian healthcare sector, but the only source of hope for many low-income families is still the Fundación Pro Integración, a charitable organization, Funproi for short. It is the only institution in the country that has qualified pediatric audiology staff at its disposal, enabling it to specialize in assisting adolescents affected by hearing loss.

Professional examinations, a suitable hearing aid and additional speech therapy: for over 30 years, these have been the cornerstones of Funproi's efforts to enhance the quality of life for children and young people with impaired hearing. Even though there is a waiting list, families travel from all over the country to the capital, Panama City, to obtain help from Funproi.

"Many parents are at a loss when they are suddenly presented with a letter that says: your child needs a hearing aid!" says Virginia de Alvarado, Funproi's Director. "That's when they approach us." Especially where younger children are concerned, it's essential to involve the parents in treatment too. "We place great emphasis on long-term concepts," Virginia de Alvarado points out. "It's not enough to provide a child with a suitable hearing aid on just one occasion, with no offer of ongoing support. Continuous, high-quality aftercare is the most important factor of all."

This was the background to Funproi's application for support from Sonova's Hear the World Foundation. The cooperation arrangement was launched in 2013 as a pilot project, and the results were outstanding: that year, Funproi was already able to provide digital hearing aids for no less than 30 youngsters with hearing loss in both ears. "To receive these new hearing aids, we selected children who come from poor families and who already wear hearing aids which they use responsibly," Virginia de Alvarado explains.

Following the success of the pilot project, the Hear the World Foundation and Funproi are now collaborating in a partnership that will last several years. The focus is still on improving the quality of life for children from low-income families who are affected by hearing loss.

The Richard Seewald Award

Each year, the Hear the World Foundation confers the Richard Seewald Award (worth USD 20,000) on an established institution specializing in the detection and treatment of hearing impairment in children. The purpose of the award is to sponsor measures that will improve services such as diagnostics and hearing aid fitting.
The Hear the World Foundation's prize is named after Professor Dr. Richard Seewald, who is well known for his tireless efforts in pediatric audiology over many decades. He spearheaded the development of an internationally recognized DSL method for fitting hearing systems to children. Prior to his retirement, Seewald held the Canada Research Chair in Childhood Hearing at that country's National Centre for Audiology, which he co-founded. He is a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Western Ontario.

"We are delighted that our foundation's Richard Seewald Award for 2014 has gone to Funproi. With this award, the Hear the World Foundation is honoring this organization's exceptional commitment to improving hearing health and care in Panama over the long term," says Sarah Kreienbühl, GVP Corporate HRM & Communications at Sonova (until 09/2017), and Member of the Board of the Hear the World Foundation.

The prize was awarded at a formal ceremony in Panama City in October 2014. It was presented by Foundation Board Member Sarah Kreienbühl and Hear the World Foundation Advisory Board Member Professor Dr. Richard Seewald, after whom the prize is named. The event was attended by many families whose children have received new hearing aids from the Hear the World Foundation.

New hearing aids were supplied to 17 more children during the Hear the World Foundation's visit to Funproi in connection with the award ceremony. Sonova employees showed their active commitment to the work of the Hear the World Foundation by helping to fit the hearing aids in Panama.

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