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Hearing screening app reaches 100K South Africans

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 10 Jan 2020
The hearScreen app has helped increase its reach of hearing screenings by 59.3% since 2017.
The hearScreen app has helped increase its reach of hearing screenings by 59.3% since 2017.

Hearing health solutions company hearX Group has provided affordable access to hearing healthcare to over 100 000 people across SA through its hearScreen application, with a total of over 700 000 tests conducted worldwide.

hearX Group was founded in 2015 by Professor De Wet Swanepoel and co-founder, Dr Herman Myburgh. It develops affordable m-health hearing health solutions that provide access to hearing care using smart digital technologies.

hearScreen was first released in 2016 and the company claims it is a world-first hearing screening mobile app in the field of audiology. It is a proudly South African app and the technology was initially researched at the University of Pretoria, but licensed and commercialised by hearX Group.

According to hearX, it’s estimated that four to six in every 1 000 live births in the public healthcare sector have hearing impairments. Healthy hearing and vision are integral to the foundational growth of children, both in school and in their home environment, it says.

During the 2019 financial year, hearX ran community hearing screening projects in various areas within Tembisa, Tshwane and Cape Town, aimed at detecting and improving hearing impairments of pupils. These projects reached over 20 000 students, 60% more than the previous year.

“The app was developed and designed by understanding a real-world socio-economic problem. This bears testimony to the innovation and creativity in SA and its potential to make a global impact on sustainable change,” says Nausheen Dawood, audiologist at hearX.

The hearing screening solution cuts costs by over 80% with its model that allows for non-specialist personnel to execute the screening on children, says the company.

hearScreen works with a standardised smartphone combined with calibrated headphones. The smartphone is standardised to control the audiometric output to make sure the pure tones are played at the correct intensities across the frequency range used for hearing loss testing.

The hearScreen software also automates the audiometric screening protocol and presents the tones at varying intensities automatically to enable minimally trained people to operate the device and perform hearing screening tests.

The results display a simple pass or refer result to ensure patients with potential hearing loss are easily identified to be referred to hearing healthcare professionals.

The solution has received multiple awards since inception, and last year received the AfriSam-SAIA Sustainable Design Award in the category of Sustainable Community Projects.

Most South Africans cannot afford hearing healthcare. "The hearScreen app is a social initiative that is highly commended. Translating audio-specialised education into a convenient and short screening test decentralises the model by enabling community members, educators and family to assist with this testing process,” continues Dawood.

According to the hearX Group Annual Impact Report for 2018-2019, over 700 000 tests have been conducted across 38 countries worldwide, mostly in underserved communities with limited access to hearing healthcare.

The report also indicates the hearScreen solution has reached nearly 60% more people, compared to the previous financial year.

The company says it is looking to expand its community-based focus by adding more services and increasing efficiency and outcomes across Sub-Saharan Africa through its hearX Foundation, while the commercial entity continues its expansion into territories worldwide.