Cochlear implant surgery in India is one of the latest developments in correcting and/or curing deafness and is providing relief to thousands of people suffering from gradual loss of hearing or permanent deafness. A cochlear implant involves putting in a computerized device in the patient’s middle ear and which is known to enhance hearing in those suffering from ‘nerve deafness.’ The device stimulates the auditory nerve by way of electrical signals that are coded. It bypasses the cochlea’s damaged hair cells which are mainly responsible for ‘nerve deafness’ and which prevent the brain from receiving natural sounds, even though highly sophisticated hearing aids may be used.
Cochlear implant surgery in India, however, is expensive. It is almost Rs 11 lakhs which is proving to be prohibitive in terms of costs, particularly for the rural population where nerve deafness is widely recorded. The high cost is primarily due to the fact that the implant is imported and its price constitutes about 65% of the total cost. The good news is that the cost of Cochlear implant surgery in India has been brought down to about Rs 6 lakhs with Centre inviting competitive bids when it launched the National Deafness Program to support disabled persons with appropriate appliances and aids. 500 children have been brought under this scheme annually to undergo Cochlear implant surgery. The government, moreover, plans to reduce costs drastically to about Rs 1 lakh to bring it within the average citizen’s reach.
The DRDO or Defense Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Union Ministry of Defense, Govt. of India, has developed an implant which will cut the cost of imports substantially. The clinical trials, however, have not yet been conducted and thus, the cost continues to hover at around Rs 6.6 lakhs per surgery.
If the Indian Cochlear implant program succeeds, it will come as a magic cure and boon to children born with speech and hearing disabilities. The surgery, however, can only be performed on children with congenital deafness and resulting speechlessness up to the age of six years. In adults too, those who don’t benefit from hearing aids anymore due to rapidly progressing deafness also qualify for cochlear implantation.
With more and more Indian ENT surgeons undergoing training in Cochlear implant surgery, the post-surgical success rate has also been high. Most people who have gradually lost hearing can now converse without lip-reading while also being able to speak on the telephone. In children, the results have been better with the youngest of the lot as they get more and more accustomed with the device as they learn to hear and talk. Rehabilitation and regular follow-ups, however, are mandatory for both patient and his parents who have to take active part in the rehabilitation process. The communication mode as also type of educational setting to which the child is exposed and parental involvement in the process of rehabilitation are absolutely crucial to get the best results. With children who lose their hearing after the age of 3 or more, the implantation should be done immediately to ensure excellent results.