By Ora Buerkli, Member of the Hear the World Foundation Board and VP Global Audiology at Phonak
I’ve been on the advisory board of the Hear the World Foundation since its establishment over ten years ago. Most of the projects I know from reading the application and the reports only. The true flavor of a project, however, can only be understood when visiting. It’s always uplifting and motivating and I just love doing it. One of the most important insights from these visits is how much difference individuals who care can make. I think we often underestimate our ability to make a difference.
My latest visit was to a project in Malawi the foundation has been supporting since 2011:
Where is Malawi?
You’re not alone if right now you’re asking yourself where exactly is Malawi? Well that it is in Africa is the easy part. South East Africa to be exact. It is landlocked and borders on Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Malawi is among the world's least developed countries. Getting there from Switzerland is a bit of a journey. Take aflight from Zurich to Vienna, then from Vienna to Addis Abeba, from Addis to Lilongwe and from there with a bus straight for a first visit of the ABC Hearing Clinic.
Comprehensive audiological care – from scratch to international standards
When I arrived, I was so impressed. I’ve been working for Phonak for over 30 years and have seen clinics and offices around the world in both developed and developing countries. The ABC Hearing Clinic could have been anywhere. Thanks to the long collaboration with the Hear the World Foundation they are well equipped with both diagnostic instruments – thank you, GN Otometrics! And up to date Phonak hearing instruments.
But even more important: they are well trained – extremely well trained. RECDs, OAEs, ABRs, Real Ear, screening newborns, making earmolds, counseling parents, teaching new students are part of the daily routine. They make home or school visit and ensure follow up. They practice audiology to the highest standards. Golden practice standard are not a first world privilege, nor is it a luxury. Doing things right is always the way to go.
During our week in Malawi we’ve seen a lot and it was a delight. The highlights included expanding neonatal screening to the largest government hospital in Lilongwe. An outreach to a city 2.5 hours drive from the capital with a specially equipped audiology trailer donated by the foundation. And attending the first day of the officially recognized audiology studies class.
Locals take over after being trained over years
I saved the best for last, from October onwards the clinic is run by local clinicians. Think about it. The clinic was founded in 2013 and there were no local clinicians. A mere five years later they have reached a professional level that allows them to take over and service their own people. They have been empowered by education to be independent of Western professional staff. It is an amazing achievement and the best definition of sustainability I can think of.