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Revolutionary South African App Helps Detect Hearing Loss

January 04, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Tech & Innovation

Fredrick Ngugi

Fredrick Ngugi | Contributor

January 04, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Tech & Innovation

A South African duo has launched a new mobile app that is making it easy for health workers to detect hearing problems in their patients. The hearScreen app, which was developed in 2013, requires only a smartphone and a pair of headphones to detect any hearing problems.

In an interview with the Guardian, the app’s co-founder and CEO, Nic Klopper, said the main objective of developing the technology was to provide a solution for decentralized community-based access to hearing healthcare, especially in underprivileged communities.

“Realizing that the prohibitive costs of current test equipment and technical expertise required meant that less than 5 percent of children were receiving these services made me look into exploring alternative solutions,” Klopper explained.

Along with Dr. Herman Myburgh of the University of Pretoria, Klopper developed hearScreen, which has since received a lot of positive feedback in South Africa and other African countries.

Best Technology for the Layman

According to Klopper, anybody can use the app provided they have a smartphone.

He added that their aim was to capitalize on the growing popularity of smartphone technology and connectivity in South Africa to make tests for hearing loss simple and affordable.

“In fact, the iconography was planned so that even someone illiterate could facilitate an accurate test.”

Several South African NGOs have come on board to help with the implementation of the technology. The Topsy Foundation, a South African charity organization supporting orphaned and vulnerable children, already plans to adopt the app for its early childhood development programs.

The app uses automatic test sequences and quality control measures, such as environmental noise monitoring, to allow reliable testing with cloud-based data management and analysis for tracking and referral purposes.

“It provides the first smartphone-based hearing test that allows acoustic calibration of test stimuli according to prescribed national and international standards,” Klopper said.

Making Noise Globally

hearScreen is currently being used in 25 countries and the company is working with internationally recognized organizations such as the World Health Organization and the US Aid Agency to ensure quick and effective implementation.

According to the South African Hearing Institute, about 7.5 percent of school children in South Africa suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss.

The institute further reports that in many countries that are located below the Sahara region, more than 1.2 million children aged between 5 and 14 years old suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears.

The institute cites lack of general awareness of hearing impairment and limited resources as the main factors contributing to the rise of hearing problems in Africa.

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