YET again, history has been written at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) with the launching of cochlear implant for children with hearing impairment, with the government announcing a total ban on state-sponsored referral of such patients for treatment abroad.
A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain. So far, five patients have undergone the costly medical surgery between Monday and Tuesday, this week, and are being admitted to Kibasila Wards for palliative care and speech therapy.
The country’s major referral hospital will have the capacity to conduct 24 implants per annum, but the government has challenged it to boost-up to 100 procedures every year.
“Now that we can operate these children locally, the government will no longer sponsor referral of patients abroad,” the Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, announced in Dar es Salaam, yesterday.
Previously, it used to cost between 80m/- and 100m/- to treat such patients abroad but now it can be done at the country’s major referral for 36m/-.
Tanzania becomes the second country in the East African region offering the procedure after Kenya, with the Minister urging expansion of the service to all major public hospitals countrywide namely Bugando Medical Centre, KCMC and Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital.
However, unlike in Dar es Salaam where it will be conducted at the public facility at lower charges, the same procedure is pegged at over US 31 million dollars (about 64m/-) in Nairobi where it is only available in private health facilities.
“The government understands that even the 36m/- charged at MNH is a lot for many Tanzanians; I thus urge the general public to join National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) which will foot the costs for the devices at 31m/- while the patient will cover the remaining 5m/- for conducting the procedure.
“Nevertheless, the state will cater for total costs of undertaking the medical procedures for children from poor families which cannot afford the charges,” Ms Mwalimu remarked.
The Minister explained further that the government used to fork out between 1.2bn/- and 1.4bn/- to send patients out of the country for treatment. The saved amount will thus be used to sponsor children from underprivileged families.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between two to three children out of 1,000 births are born with hearing impairment whilst local data showing that 95 per cent of patients suffering from the condition are children.
The Executive Director of MNH, Prof Lawrence Museru, said some 200 children in Tanzania are suffering from the condition, noting further that the government has been able to sponsor only 50 patients for treatment abroad so far.
Prof Museru informed the Minister further that some seven local medical practitioners received training in India and Egypt on performing the implants, explaining that cochlear and renal transplants were among leading diseases that hitherto required transfers abroad.
The local experts were under the supervision of Prof Hassan Wahba from Egypt and Prof Sunnil Dutt from Apollo Hospital in India, he explained.