One of the challenges of the developing world is reconciling the need with the limited financial resources. While there is a great and growing demand for hearing aids, rich-country technology is expensive to buy and maintain.
According to the World Health Organization, over 166 million people in developing nations need the aids but the cost of the latest hearing technology is prohibitive. In fact, less than 3 percent of people in the developing countries who need a hearing device actually have one.
Instead of importing costly Western technology, an African manufacturer is producing its own affordable hearing aids, with the help of an unexpected, and totally free source: the sun.
Since 1992, Godisa Technologies, a company based in Bostwana, has been designing, building and selling hearing aids with batteries powered by solar energy. To date, it is one of only a few manufacturers in the world producing low-cost, environmentally friendly hearing devices specifically for the tropical sub-Sahara, which includes the worlds poorest regions.
Here Comes The Sun
It is the source of unlimited, renewable power, which has been providing us with millions of kilowatts of clean, safe, and pollution-free energy since the beginning of times.
We assume that our desire to develop and exploit solar energy is spawned by the scientific evidence of the harmful effects of the greenhouse emissions on the environment. In fact, the interest in the solar technology is not new. Ancient Greeks and Romans saw the advantages of designing their dwellings to make use of the suns capacity to light and heat indoor spaces.
But the actual harnessing of solar energy goes back to the 19th century and the industrial revolution, which, oddly enough, was founded on the premise of seemingly endless supply of fossil fuels. A number of visionary engineers, however, questioned whether the economy based solely on non-renewable energy sources could, in fact, be sustainable. These pioneers developed innovative for that era techniques for capturing solar power to produce steam used to drive the machinery.
Now, over a century later we know for sure what these early trailblazers suspected long ago that solar power is not only practical, but also cheaper and cleaner than fossil fuels that have wreaked havoc with our environment.
All of us can greatly benefit from the suns power, but for developing and emerging countries it is an effective and sometimes the only affordable source of energy.
Something New Under The Sun
In Setswana, Bostwanas official language, the word Godisa means, "doing something that is helping others to grow."
And it does.
The company, which employs 14 people --10 of whom are deaf or physically challenged -- created the SolarAid, an eco-friendly hearing device that sells for less than $100. Based on the success of SolarAid, the company went on to develop a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid and an accompanying solar battery charger.
What makes these products unique and adapted to the needs of the developing world is the hearing aids are adjusted in order to sit directly in the solar charger. And since the batteries are charged by the solar power, the need to continuously buy new ones is eliminated. According to Modesta Nyirenda Zabula of Godisa , they have just upgraded their solar charger making the charging process more efficient - instead of 6 to 8 hours to recharge, it now only takes 2 hours.
The company says the advantages and benefits are clear:
They are at least 75 percent less expensive than comparable products, and therefore more affordable to hearing-impaired individuals, schools, and organizations in developing countries.
They are high quality and technically advanced, meeting the guidelines set out for hearing aids by the World Health Organization.
- They are environmentally sound, thanks to the solar powered battery recharging, which reduces the harmful impact of battery disposal.
If you use battery-powered hearing aids, here is something you should know: never throw your used batteries in the trash. By law, you are not required to recycle hearing aid batteries, but battery users are encouraged to do so because of the hazardous components zinc and mercury that pose proven risks if batteries end up in the waterways or in a landfill. Some stores, hearing aid retailers, or hearing clinics will accept the batteries for recycling.
In general, all batteries should be disposed of carefully. Why? Because improperly discarded batteries may eventually end up in the food chain, causing serious health risks to humans and animals.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 350 million rechargeable batteries are purchased annually in the United States. Not all of them are the same and they require specific instructions to ensure that each type of battery is properly discarded or recycled.
If you are not sure where and how to safely discard your batteries, ask your local authorities.
This may seem like a chore, but until and unless all our batteries are rechargeable with solar power, that is a sound advice to heed.