In the Dominican Republic, the Hear the World Foundation founded by Sonova Group has renovated a clinic, installed state-of-the-art equipment and provided audiological training for local people. Sonova volunteers are helping with regular training sessions on site.
While vacationers usually perceive the Dominican Republic as a postcard idyll, almost one in two Dominicans lives in a slum area. Access to medical care is too expensive for many people there. The Centro Cristiano de Servicios Médicos was founded in Santo Domingo in 1980 with the aim of providing the Dominican population with affordable and first-class healthcare. Today, the clinic has five locations strategically positioned throughout the country so that even people in remote regions can receive medical treatment. Thanks to a Hear the World Foundation program, Dominicans from all income levels now have access to audiological care of the highest international standard.
It all began in 2010 with a request to the Hear the World Foundation to provide funding for a sound level meter – an instrument for professional audiological diagnosis. Today the Centro Cristiano de Servicios Médicos offers an audiological service that is unique on the Caribbean island. The clinic has state-of-the art equipment as well as audiologically qualified and highly motivated staff. It also runs its own training program to ensure that junior staff are professionally trained.
First, let’s look back at how it all started. In 2010, the Hear the World Foundation began by financing the diagnostic instruments initially applied for, along with staff training. Then in 2014, the internationally reputed pediatric audiologist Prof. Richard Seewald from the Hear the World advisory board traveled to the Caribbean island to see the clinic for himself and gain a picture of the local situation. Seewald subsequently developed a master plan for the next five years alongside project leader Nicole Hunter-Diaz. The aim was to turn the Centro Cristiano into a model clinic.
“During our site visit in 2014, we found a group of 5 passionate clinicians and a strong commitment from their leadership to raise the overall quality of hearing health care service delivery and to expand their services further, particularly to infants, young children and their families. With our Foundation's goal to develop capacity at the local level, I returned from this visit feeling that we had found an ideal group to work with in this collaborative partnership,” Richard Seewald explains.
The first step was to renovate the clinic and to install state-of-the-art equipment. However, the cornerstone of the project plan was a demanding training program to allow local people to qualify as audiologists. Up to present, 33 audiologists have been trained who now provide audiological care to the Dominican population in three locations. Regular training sessions by Sonova volunteers and Hear the World Master Clinician Diana Laurnagaray from Argentina ensure that the audiological care available is of the highest international standard.
In addition, the Hear the World Foundation helps the Centro Cristiano by supplying modern digital hearing devices so that even patients who cannot afford hearing aids can be looked after.
Another milestone followed in 2016 with the establishment of a hearing screening program for newborns in the Dominican Republic. To this end, the Centro Cristiano works with the Los Mina Clinic, the largest maternity clinic in Santo Domingo, where around 11,000 babies are born each year. Several times a week, employees from the Centro Cristiano visit the Los Mina clinic and test the babies’ hearing. “When young children do not experience sufficient or any hearing stimuli at all due to untreated hearing loss, they learn to speak with a significant delay or do not learn at all,” explains Miguel Evangelista, Head Audiologist of the clinic.
“Shortcomings in this phase of development are difficult to catch up on.” This test is free – which is essential, because many of the newborns at the Los Mina Clinic are the children of immigrants from Haiti, who could otherwise not afford to be diagnosed or treated. If a test is negative, the baby is referred to the Centro Cristiano for further examinations. Thanks to this program, 373 babies with hearing loss are now identified each year and can be treated at the Centro Cristiano. As a result, more and more families are coming to the Centro Cristiano with their little patients. In order to ensure that they receive hearing care of the highest standard, as well as optimal examination and treatment, a further clinic location has been opened in the east of the capital.
Little Venus was born far too early, in the 28th week of pregnancy. Thanks to the Mama Canguro premature infant program at Los Mina Hospital, the little girl developed well. Like all babies at the clinic, Venus underwent a newborn screening test – with negative results. The subsequent tests were also negative. To treat her hearing loss, Venus’ mother Jeannette would then have had to take her to the Centro Cristiano. However, the family lived in a remote area, a long way from the clinic. The young mother was desperate. Since Venus’ father was unemployed at the time, the family could not afford to pay for trips to the clinic. They let the appointments go by and stopped reporting to the clinic.
Until autumn 2019: as luck would have it, Venus’ father found a new job – near the Centro Cristiano, and the young family moved house. Finally Jeannette could do something for Venus. The little girl was now two years old. She was very bright and, despite her severe hearing loss, the sunshine of the family. At the beginning of November, the time came for Venus to be fitted with new hearing aids – and the effects were immediately visible to mother Jeanette. The little girl has been babbling tirelessly ever since, absorbing sounds and impressions like a sponge. She is now even more lively than before. To Venus’ great delight, Jeannette chose bright pink earpieces – that the little girl now wears as proudly as if they were jewels. Venus will now attend auditory-verbal therapy twice a week at the Centro Cristiano to make up for the lost time in her speech development as much as possible.