Project Deaf India began with a newspaper article Dr. Raj Desai received from a friend. In it, the reporter wrote about a remote village in which 20% - 30% of the population was deaf. Dr. Desai explained in a recent interview on AudiologyOnline. "Even as a doctor I couldn't believe why there should be about 30% deaf out of [a population of] 500 in this distant village in India. Sure, we all know that India has poverty, India has hygiene and sanitation problems, but all of this couldn't seem to account for 30% deafness."
Dr. Desai was determined to conduct some field research. He received help from the National Institute of Health, and cooperation from the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.
"Despite all of the obstacles - no electricity, no running water, and no paved roads to these remote villages - we went...and investigated. We made a video entitled "Silent Village" that got a lot of attention, both from the Rotary [Rotary International], who did an article on it for a Rotary publication that is distributed throughout the world, and from others. That's how Project Deaf India started," this humanitarian explained in the interview.
The doctor explained the unique problem the deaf in India face. "India is a challenge because it has 38 languages recognized by the government in the whole country. They are totally different languages. If you live in the south, you don't understand the language of the north and vice-versa. At the present time, most deaf people in India now use a combination of body language and a type of sign language combined together"
It doesn't take much thought to realize that (1) this is hardly an effective, accurate means of communicating and (2) the deaf population remains isolated, even among the individuals who make up the deaf and heard of hearing groups within the country.
"The first goal was early detection of deafness and intervention. This is what now common practice in the UK and US is. Any child that is born in a hospital or any birthing center is tested for deafness, everywhere in the United States."
Dr. Desai continued. "Of course follow-up, such as with intervention and amplification, is also critical. In India, many children are born with hearing loss that is medically treatable, so in a matter of a few months, many children can be helped just with intervention or surgery."
The second goal of Project Deaf India was to decrease the large incidence of deafness. India has a National Vaccination Plan but it does not include measles and rubella vaccination. When these vaccines are included, it will decrease deafness and also blindness drastically in India.
Currently there are only 1,000 audiologists in the whole country of one billion people. Neither are there ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctors to detect deafness accurately. Deaf India, at the cost of approximately $700 million, will train enough ENT doctors and audiologists by 2010, to treat the large population.
To learn more about the efforts of Deaf India and how they are working to provide better care to those in need in India, visit: Project Deaf India: Helping Those with Hearing Loss.