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Cochlear Implant: An antidote to hearing loss?

Cochlear Implant

According to a 2014 report by the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University of Jos Teaching Hospital, Over 250 million people suffer various degrees of hearing loss globally, with 75% living in sub-Saharan Africa out of which about 2.8% resides in Nigeria.

The degrees of hearing loss vary from mild to profound. The treatment for severe to profound hearing loss is very challenging in Nigeria. People with this defect have over the years been subjected to prejudice and misconception. This however, makes the move to find a lasting solution to the impairment long overdue.

Hearing Loss, according to Otolaryngologists may be due to problems with the ear canal, ear drum, or middle ear. Experts also identify infections, maternal diabetes, preeclampsia, etc as causes of hearing loss in newborns.

To address this defect, a Sydney-based medical device company, Cochlear Limited, in 1981, commercialised the design, manufacturing and supplies of Nucleus hearing devices.

What is Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted neuroprosthetic device that provides a sense of sound to a person with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants bypass the normal acoustic hearing process, instead replacing it with electric signals which directly stimulate the auditory nerve.  Although, the implant doesn’t make you hear normally again, but it can help you with sounds.

How does cochlear implant work?

According to a Cochlear official, Dr Nadia Abdulhaq, ‘the best time to be implanted is as a child between the ages of 1 to 3, but the surgery is for children and adults with sensorineural hearing loss.’ She said the condition typically involves damage to tiny hair cells in a part of the patient’s inner ear called the ‘Cochlea’. A cochlear implant skips the damaged hair cells and sends signals to the auditory nerve directly.


While implanting, a surgeon puts the cochlear device under the patient’s skin behind his/her ear through a small cut. A receiver is then connected to electrodes, which the surgeon put into a part of the patient’s inner ear called the cochlea. According to Dr Nadia, the surgery takes an hour or two, and the patient is likely to be discharged the same day.

Cost of the surgery

Although, Cochlear Implant is safe, effective and guaranteed, but its cost would send fear down one’s spine.

According to findings, the cost of getting cochlear implants in the United States is around $65,000, most of which are covered by health insurance. In the United Kingdom, the NHS covers cochlear implants in full. The case is totally different in Nigeria, as patient carries all the bill. When contacted, a Clinical Audiologist, Dr Simeon Afolabi, said the surgery goes for a whopping N20m in Nigeria. He disclosed that neither the Government nor NGOs show support in that regards.

Where to get Cochlear Implant in Nigeria

Unlike US, UK, and Australia where the surgery is done at almost every medical centre, the only clinic that handles Cochlear surgery in Nigeria presently is ‘BSA Hearing and Speech Centre’, which happened to be the only authorized distributor of Cochlear devices in the country. BSA’s head office is at 49b Oluwaleyimu Street, Ikeja, Lagos, while its Abuja office is at Peace Plaza, Ajose Adeogun, Utako District.

Advantages of a cochlear implant

It can be life-changing if you have a serious hearing problem. But the results aren’t the same for everyone. Some people benefit more than others. Some of the advantages are that:

  • Implanted person may be able to hear speech at a nearly normal level.
  • It’s easier to talk on the phone and hear the TV.
  • Implanted person may be able to hear music better than before.
  • It allows one to better control his/her own voice so that it’s easier for others to understand you.

What about the risks?

According to Davide Profeta, Cochlear Ltd’s Sub-Saharan Africa Business Development Manager, ‘Cochlear implant surgery is very safe, but just like other operations, the surgery comes with some risks.’

Davide disclose that problems can include: bleeding, infections, and side effects from the medicine that sends you to sleep during the procedure.

Other possible complications are: A nerve injury that changes the patient’s sense of taste, a nerve damage that causes weakness or paralysis in the face, Dizziness or balance problems, ringing in one’s ears, called tinnitus, leaks of the fluid around the brain, etc.

Criticism and controversy

It is believed by some that cochlear implants for congenitally deaf children are most effective when implanted at a young age.

Children with cochlear implants are more likely to be educated orally in the standard fashion, and are often isolated from other deaf children and from sign language. Cochlear implants have been one of the technological and social factors implicated in the decline of sign languages in the developed world. Some deaf activists have therefore labelled the widespread implantation of children as ‘cultural genocide’.

However, as the trend for cochlear implants in children grows, deaf community advocates have tried to counter the ‘either or’ formulation of oralism vs manualism with a ‘both and’ approach; some schools are now successfully integrating cochlear implants with sign language in their educational programs.

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