Here is the full transcript of ear surgeon Susan Emmett’s TED Talk: This Simple Test Can Help Kids Hear Better.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: This simple test can help kids hear better by Susan Emmett
Listen to the sounds of why hearing matters to the Alaskan Native people. Hearing loss makes it hard to fish on the open water, hunt caribou and harvest berries, activities central to Alaskan Native culture.
Hearing loss isn’t unique to rural Alaska. It’s global. The Global Burden of Disease Project estimates that there are 1.1 billion people living with hearing loss worldwide. That’s more people than the entire population here in sub-Saharan Africa.
Over 80% are in low- and middle-income countries, and many have no access to hearing care. The impact on people’s lives is tremendous. Anuk is a three-year-old boy I treated in Alaska. Ear infections started when he was barely four months old. His parents brought him into clinic, worried he didn’t say much compared to his brothers.
Sure enough, many rounds of infections had resulted in hearing loss. Without treatment, Anuk’s speech will continue to lag behind. He’s more likely to do worse in school, have worse job prospects and experience social isolation. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The World Health Organization estimates that half of all global hearing loss can be prevented. If Anuk’s hearing loss is identified and treated promptly, his life and the opportunities he has as he grows up could look vastly different.
I’m an ear surgeon working with partners around the world on new pathways for hearing loss prevention. This solution comes from my collaboration with a tribal health organization called the Norton Sound Health Corporation. Hearing loss evaluation traditionally requires testing by an audiologist in a soundproof room, with a lot of permanent equipment. An ear surgeon then examines Anuk’s ears under a microscope and decides a treatment plan.
These resources simply aren’t available in remote settings. In a state where 75% of communities aren’t connected to a hospital by road, an expensive flight is required. To overcome these barriers, Alaska has developed a state-of-the-art telemedicine system that connects over 250 village health clinics with specialists who triage all types of health concerns. My colleagues have validated that ear-related telemedicine consults are equivalent to an in-person exam.