Six out of 10 ultra-Orthodox women don’t take their babies for free hearing checks, according to Tel Aviv University hearing researcher Dr. Sarah Ingber.
The expert, speaking on Tuesday before the Knesset Committee for Children’s Rights, said that hearing defects can be treated successfully in many cases if detected early, and that if they are neglected, the window of opportunity to help them can close.
In her study of a variety of parental groups, Ingber looked at various factors, including education, income, religious observance, the number of children and the mother’s age.
Newborns’ hearing is checked at no cost to parents at the hospital soon after they are born, but the parents are encouraged to take them for a second test a few days after their discharge.
Out of all sectors, ultra-Orthodox women are the least likely to bring their baby for a second test to follow up on its hearing ability.
Ingber said that while the medical team should do its utmost to encourage parents to do so, “the parents are the main factor in the decision.”
Acting committee chairman MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid) said that hearing disability is the main block preventing proper child development and integration into society. “The earlier they are diagnosed, the more quickly they are diagnosed and helped. Every month that passes is precious and lost forever,” she said.
Deputy Education Minister MK Avraham Wortzman (Bayit Yehudi) announced the opening of a publicity campaign to promote awareness among the public and in state institutions of the need to take babies for hearing tests. “A child who is not diagnosed when young will face 10 times the problems of other children,” he said.
“We will run this awareness program for all sectors, in cooperation with the Health Ministry, because God created every person with his own challenges.”
Dr. Lisa Rubin, who runs the mother-and-child department in the ministry, said that 93 percent of hearing- disabled children are diagnosed before the age of three months, but that the rest are not taken for the necessary testing.
The chairman of the Beersheba branch of Micha – Society for Deaf Children noted that the queue for testing babies’ hearing is very long in the Negev, and that many are able to undergo the exam only around their first birthday. “Even parents who are very interested in the test and put on pressure are invited to a clinic months late,” he said.
Dr. Orly Hertzberg, the ministry’s head of clinical communications, said that the wait at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba is “no longer than three months.” She promised, however, that the ministry would act to shorten it.
Meanwhile, the elderly have difficulties getting help for their own hearing disabilities, according to a discussion Tuesday of the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that “too many business interests are involved in the assignment of hearing aids to patients, who are put under pressure to be poor consumers.
The health funds struggle with business interests, and the patients are in the middle.”
Gamzu suggested that the health funds should be able to deal directly with hearing aid suppliers who won public tenders. “Not everything that the suppliers want to push to the market should be allowed,” he said. “The state gives a grant of NIS 3,200 for the purchase of a hearing aid for pensioners, but suddenly we discover that the devices have gotten more expensive, to the tune of thousands of shekels more. Thus the state money goes directly to the suppliers’ pockets. Their profits turn out to be 70 percent higher than their costs.”
Acting committee chairman MK Shuli Moalem- Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) called on the ministry to license hearing aid suppliers so that it can supervise their prices.
But former health minister MK Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said this was “too drastic. All you have to do is wave a red flag at them.”
Moalem-Refaeli said that she had received complaints from organizations of hearing- disabled that hearing-disabled people aged 18 to 65 are “discriminated against compared to those aged over 65 and below 16, and that the middle group receive allocations of only NIS 900 for buying hearing aids once in three years.”