Here is some basic information for the media about cochlear implants in New Zealand and the 2ears2hear campaign to get funding for bilateral cochlear implants for children.
A cochlear implant consists of two parts: an external sound processor and a surgically implanted electrode array. The array is inserted into the cochlea – which is a small snail shaped structure in the inner ear. It provides electrical stimulation directly to the auditory nerve – bypassing all the most common causes of hearing loss.
Cochlear implants provide a good, although not perfect, reproduction of natural hearing. They are more than capable of providing access to speech. Many users even have access to more complicated hearing such as music.
In New Zealand there are roughly 1,000 cochlear implant users, of which there are approximately 350 children (0-18yo). Of that 350 children, approximately 16% have both ears implanted. In the 0-5yo group this increases to 30%.
The New Zealand Government funds only one Cochlear Implant per user. They fund 46 per year for children. This is enough so there is no waiting list. For adults the government now fund 40 per year (as of 2013/14). There is a waiting list.
Each cochlear implant costs approximately $50,000. If a second implant is done at the same time, the extra cost is only $34,000. If it is done later, it is $50,000.
The 2ears2hear Campaign
2ears2hear is a national grouping of parents who want to see the government fund two cochlear implants where this would be the appropriate treatment for a child. We aim to raise awareness of the benefits of two Cochlear Implants over one, help parents who decide to fundraise for a second Cochlear Implant and lobby the government to provide appropriate funding.
We assert that two cochlear implants are BETTER, CHEAPER and SAFER than one.
In the UK a three-year study of every cochlear implant user has found that children with two cochlear implants develop their language at a similar pace and to a similar level as normal hearing children, after one year of catch up. After three years, children with one cochlear implant were significantly behind and not showing any sign of catching up.
In Australia and New Zealand, recently published research shows that children with two implants develop language more quickly and to a higher level than those with just one implant.
Other research projects, although smaller, show similar results. In short, the research shows a child with one cochlear implant is going to really struggle and probably not reach their full potential.
The current Ministry of Health policy asserts that one cochlear implant is adequate to provide children the ability to develop language. The research now explicitly refutes this assertion.
In New Zealand children with hearing loss receive a reasonable amount of support in their educational settings. While it’s a bit hard to pin down, it appears that each child can attract between $30,000 and $50,000 of support per year. A child identified at birth through Universal New Born Hearing Screening, who receives two cochlear implants at 6 months old and receives a good burst of therapy will in most cases be completely caught up by the time they hit school and require no in-class support. A child with one cochlear implant will likely need support all through their schooling. Even at the lower figure of $30,000 per year, it becomes uneconomic to provide only a unilateral cochlear implant within 1 to 2 years.
Cochlear implants are electronic devices. Like all electronics a small number of them fail for various reasons. About 1.2% of devices fail after 7 years – or in the NZ context, about 12 in the course of 7 years. For a child with one cochlear implant – let’s say a 2 year old – having their hearing just stop one day will be incredibly traumatic. It will take roughly 6 weeks to get any hearing back due to the need for scars to heal after re-implantation. Then it will likely take another 3 months to get their hearing back to where it was. If the child was at school, that’s close to two terms of schooling disrupted. Having a second implant provides continuity of hearing and a much quicker path back to full hearing.
In addition there is growing research around possible negative effects of multiple general anesthetic at an early age. Given this concern, it makes sense to minimise the need for future surgeries and put two implants in at the same time.
The 2ears2hear Proposal
We propose the Government follow countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, most of the EU, most states in the US and Japan and immediately fund bilateral cochlear implants for all newly implanted children. The maximum cost of this is $1.6m in the first year.
In addition we would suggest that families contribute towards the ongoing running costs of these extra implants. We have suggested families contribute $90 per fortnight. This arrangement ensures there is no blow out in support and upgrade costs. Families will be able to afford this as this amount is the same as the Child Disability Allowance – which all children with cochlear implants can access.
There are a number of stories that can be found under our stories tab. In addition we can provide families and users to interview. Please contact us via our Contact Us page. We generally can respond to a query within the hour.