THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Rubin Jimmy, a Class IX student from Changanassery, has started having trouble with his hearing ability after a gap of 11 years. He is one of the first beneficiaries of ‘Sruthitharangam’, a government scheme started by Oommen Chandy to offer Cochlear implants at the age of three-and-a-half years.
The ‘Sruthitharangam’ scheme was introduced to support children like Rubin, enabling them to regain their hearing ability and develop language skills from a young age. Having benefited greatly from the programme, Rubin expressed his gratitude to the late chief minister on his Facebook page in a heartfelt tribute.
However, the trouble began when the external hearing device attached to Rubin’s ear malfunctioned, raising concerns for his parents- Siji and Jimmy Mathew. They are unable to afford the hefty price tag of Rs 7-8 lakh for a new hearing device without government assistance.
The situation is not unique to Rubin alone, as many other children are facing similar issues. According to the Cochlear Implantees Association and Charitable Society (CIACS), around 360 children are currently affected due to the lack of support for upgrading their hearing devices.
Additionally, around 50 children below the age of three have been waiting for government approval for Cochlear implant surgeries under the ‘Sruthitharangam’ scheme for the last six months.
“There are only a few companies offering implants. Once we choose a company, we have to stick with it throughout the child’s life. However, these companies stop producing a specific model after about 10 years, necessitating a change when the external device malfunctions. The ‘Sruthitharangam’ scheme was designed to assist parents who couldn’t afford the high costs,” said Navas Edathinnayil, state president, CIACS.
Since 2018, the government has been providing support for device maintenance. However, the recent decision to shift the scheme from the social justice department to the health department in the budget has led to delays in assistance, affecting the children who depend on it.
The scheme was brought under the health department as funds are provided under the National Health Mission, said an officer. However, the change has been slow, thereby affecting the child beneficiaries.
“The delay in providing maintenance significantly impacts children. Just one week of hearing loss can result in a setback of three weeks in their ability to speak properly. Moreover, it can also affect their learning capacity and result in psychological issues for some children,” Navas added.
Frustrated by the delays, CIACS is planning to restart its protest if timely action is not taken by the government before the end of July. Meanwhile, around 80 child beneficiaries are planning to pay their respects to the late chief minister, Oommen Chandy, during his funeral in Kottayam on Thursday.