Congenital hearing loss is the third most common form of physical disability after arthritis and heart disease. Approximately 10 million people in Pakistan currently suffer from some degree of hearing loss, a situation which is compounded by the absence of any guidelines within the public sector, pertaining to the screening of hearing at birth. Paediatric Audiologists have a key role to play in conducting the ‘hearing screening’ of newborns, as well as determining the extremity of any identified issues; which begs the question, of why only two such individuals are currently being employed within the Punjab public health sector. The early identification of hearing loss is crucial as any delay in doing so can have negative repercussions for the language development of the child, and hinder the ability to effectively communicate with them. Despite these pressing concerns, this sub-specialty is largely ignored within Pakistan, with no institution currently offering a relevant post-graduate degree.
Although it is clearly not a prominent theme in this country, a democracy ideally enables the translation of public opinion into national policy; and nowhere is this most effectively demonstrated than in the collective disregard for disabled people within Pakistan. It is a culture founded on contempt towards anything deviating from the mean, such that those with physical or mental disabilities are regarded as a burden, or even a ‘curse’ from God. They are shunned from public, and hidden away to protect the family’s reputation in fear of the negative perceptions their presence could cultivate. Such a misguided stance has been a death sentence for those with disabilities; as such rampant suppression of information has only served to inhibit the possibility of a proportionate effort being made towards their rehabilitation, and integration into society.
We Pakistanis love to criticise the government for its numerous failings, and of course even in this case, ranging from the lack of public accessibility to limited national initiatives, there are many reasons to hold them accountable. But first and foremost, for each one of us, it is time for a little introspection.