Improving mental health of hearing-impaired Nigerians

It is becoming clearer that drug abuses and self-medication are more pronounced among the young especially those with hearing-impairment. A recent study, published in labblog.uofmhealth.org reads, “People under age 50 with hearing loss misuse prescription opioids at twice the rate of their hearing peers and are also more likely to misuse alcohol and other drugs.”  Interestingly, a recent survey, credited to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse, identifies the non-medical use of prescription opioids as one of the widely used drugs by people, aged between 25 and 39.

The identified ugly trend is fueled by several factors including acute economic challenges and medical experts, claiming to treat every type of ailment especially in rural areas. Mike Ogirima, a former President of the Nigerian Medical Association, (NMA), reportedly affirms, “Based on complaints we receive as an association, I think quackery is on the increase. Because of economic recession, patients cannot afford the high cost of medical bills from orthodox hospitals; they revert to alternative care, spiritual homes and places where they cannot get quality health care. And at the end of the day they are maimed as a result of wrong approaches or wrong treatment given to them. These are some of our findings during the course of investigating complaints regarding fake doctors.”

A report in Ripples Nigeria, an online publication, also reads, “In rural communities, quack doctors perform surgeries on patients for non-surgical conditions like Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, PID, Urinary Tract Infection, UTI and functional abdominal pains that require only anti-biotics treatment.”

The reality is that some hearing-impaired persons cannot be completely blamed for resorting to self-medication. It is truly not very easy, living with persistent shame especially being shouted upon at any given time. In short, some of them that could not properly fit into approved social circle or carry out certain functions have reached the point of possibly considering suicide. Audu Eneche, Country Director for International Centre for Prevention of Deafness and Rehabilitation of Persons with Hearing Impairment, ICPDRPHI, reportedly notes, “… in a meeting where you have the deaf and the blind, the deaf man is like to be left out in the conversation while the blind man can actively participate because he can hear what others are saying and make contributions. Most times, no one has the patience to do sign language to assist the deaf person; hence, he cannot contribute meaningfully. The deaf person is cut off and isolated from the basic unit of the society, which is the family. Because of this, you notice that they are bottled up with emotions that are negative.” Claudia Dewane, a clinical social worker, in a recent report, in SocialWorkTODAY, equally stresses, “Sometimes hearing loss exerts a direct impact on mental health. Depression and adjustment disorder can occur as a natural response to hearing loss and its subsequent impact on the quality of life. On the other hand, some people have pre-morbid mental health issues and hearing loss simply compounds the problem.” Frank Lin, Director of Johns Hopkins’ Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, further argues, “Hearing loss is really linked with loneliness…Loneliness can raise stress hormones and inflammation, which can contribute to dementia. Those with hearing loss, meanwhile, can be so socially isolated that their brains get stimulated less, which could hasten cognitive decline.”

It however cannot be over-stressed that some hearing-impaired persons have proven and are still demonstrating that they can handle any human task as well as actively and effectively contribute their quotas towards effective nation building. Umaru Tanko Al-makura, former Governor of Nassarawa State and now representing Nassarawa South in the Senate, has never hidden the fact that he is living with hearing impairment. A recent report in The Nation reads, “Umaru Tanko Al-makura has successfully carved a niche for himself as one of Nigeria’s leading champions of government accountability and transparency, with Nasarawa State ranked among the top three states in the country with high fiscal discipline by Transparency International.” Many historical figures such as Thomas Edison, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Helen Keller, Whoopi Goldberg, amongst others are also said to be having trouble in hearing.

It is widely agreed that the greatest and best solution to hearing impairment is procuring a perfect hearing aid. Regrettably, the latter, however, is not only very costly but clearly beyond the reach of several indigent Nigerians.

Ogunkeyede SA, et al, confirm in heighpubs.org, “ Uptake of hearing aid in developing countries is influenced by the cost which is out of reach of patients and also by the post fixing maintenance services that is not readily available in the community.” The World Health Organisation, (WHO), in its bulletin, 2014; 92:367-373, equally stresses, “…the target price for an “affordable” hearing aid should be no more than 3% of the per capita of the user’s country. When this definition was proposed, 3% of the per capita gross national product of Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria was 26, 46, 26, 10 and 43 United States dollars (US$), respectively. These target prices – which represent small fractions of the corresponding mean price of a hearing aid in a developed country – are too high for many low-income countries. In addition, they exclude the costs of ear moulds, maintenance and the periodic purchase of batteries.”

Meanwhile, several individuals and organisations are already seriously addressing the issue of stigmatisation against persons with disabilities in Nigeria. MTN, one of the leading telecommunications service providers, through MTN Foundation Disability Support, recently provided hearing aid to some beneficiaries in states like Bauchi. Airtel, another outstanding telecommunications service provider, recently used its Airtel Touching Lives Season 4, in handing over a fully furnished restaurant to Lukman Oreniwa, a hearing-impaired caterer in Lagos. The give-back-efforts of the cited organisations and others are highly commendable. This is however the best time for the government, corporate, charitable organisations and generous individuals to help in addressing increasing cases of hearing loss in Nigeria. The gesture will not just help indigent citizens in tackling hearing-impairment but help in making the challenge history like the once dreaded wild poliovirus.

 Odiaka, who currently lives with partial hearing-impairment, writes from Lagos.

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