Software developed to utilise smartphones as semi-automated hearing screening devices is employed. This solution halves current equipment costs whilst offering a host of additional advantages not available on current systems. An important and novel quality control feature is real-time monitoring that provides feedback on noise levels in the environment to ensure that reliable screening is conducted.
Unidentified hearing loss in children has historically been shown to have a dramatically deleterious effect on educational achievement and, ultimately, vocational outcomes. Children with hearing loss suffer delayed speech and language development that later results in poor academic and literacy achievement, an increased risk of failure at or dropping out of school and a plethora of other dysfunctions.
Historically the implementation of school hearing screening in South Africa has been variable and sub-optimal, with poor coverage, especially in disadvantaged communities. According to the World Health Organisation, close to 3,2 million people in South Africa have disabling hearing loss.
The recently launched Integrated School Health Policy of the departments of Health and Basic Education recognises the importance of early detection of childhood hearing loss and recommends hearing screening for all grade-one learners nationally. This means that more than 1,1 million grade-one learners will require hearing screening from 2014 with numbers expected to increase in the future.
The software developed by Prof. Swanepoel and Dr Myburgh comprises an automated test sequence in accordance with prescribed procedures and regulations. This means that very little training is required to conduct a hearing test and that standardised screening procedures will be used throughout. Its data capturing functionality allows for test data to be stored, geo-tagged and shared to online servers for surveillance of screening programmes.
The technology revolutionises school-based hearing screening by reducing costs, minimising training needs, incorporating quality control, being lightweight, mobile and battery operated, and by offering on-site capturing and sharing of data using cellular networks.
The University of Pretoria has patented the invention. Large-scale clinical trials in the City of Tshwane will continue into 2014.