Brett Lee bats for newborn hearing screening

Former Australian cricketer Brett Lee with Tanmay M S, a Cochlear recipient, and the boy\'s mother Suguna at the DH office in Bengaluru on Monday. DH PHOTO/Sriaknat Sharma R

To promote awareness about hearing loss, former Australian fast bowler and Cochlear Global Hearing Ambassador Brett Lee hosted a workshop and press conference on Monday in Bengaluru, his second visit to the city in two years. 

Lee stressed the importance of mandating Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) at all hospitals in Karnataka to detect deficiencies in children before they miss out on critical years of development. 

Cochlear is a Sydney-based company that provides implants, hearing aids and other services. As many as 466 million people worldwide suffer from debilitating hearing loss — 34 million of which are children, WHO estimates. According to the 2011 census, hearing is the second-most common cause of disability in India (19% of the disabled population), and more than 2.35 lakh people from Karnataka suffer from a hearing loss. 

Ever the competitor, Lee challenged the people of Karnataka to step up to the rubber, praising the efforts of Kerala, which provides the UNHS in its 66 government maternity centres. “Why can’t Karnataka be like Kerala?” he asked. 

Health Department Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey told DH on Monday that Karnataka was planning to take up the Kerala model and introduce the UNHS as soon as possible. “We will write to various HR industries and philanthropies for funding,” he said. According to the commissioner, 80 people in the state received implants last year, and the Health Department is targeting at least 150 implants this year. 

Eight-year-old Tanmay M S, a Cochlear recipient from Vijayanagar, who underwent two surgeries, joined Lee at the press conference. The hearing device has been a very positive change in Tanmay’s life, his mother said: While he was formally reluctant to leave the bed in the mornings, Tanmay now wakes up with a smile. 

Lee first began advocating for awareness after his son Preston experienced temporary hearing loss from an accident in 2011. Ever since Lee has championed the cause around the world. He visited children at the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing in Mysuru on Friday. International Week of the Deaf will take place during the last week of September. 

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