Misheelt Batjargal and her fellow club members are giving a voice to infants and toddlers in Mongolia who would otherwise live in a silent world.
As part of a large-scale community project, the Rotary Club of Ulaanbaatar Peace Avenue, Mongolia, is equipping hospitals with screening devices to test newborns’ hearing. Batjargal, an ear, nose, and throat physician, says screening to detect hearing loss is not routine nationwide in Mongolia. She estimates that more than 200 hundred children in the country lose their hearing each year.
But Batjargal believes this is preventable. Early screenings are crucial for infants because, left undiagnosed, hearing impairment can impede children’s development in speech, language, and cognition.
“If we can detect hearing loss before babies turn six months old, we can fit them with hearing aids or cochlear implants and give them good early intervention programs that will allow them to communicate normally at school and with friends,” says Batjargal, who noted that only one hospital in Mongolia conducted screenings before club members launched the project in 2013. “Our club is helping prevent hearing-impaired babies from growing up in a world of isolation.”
The club has held two fundraisers since January, including a performance of the ballet “Swan Lake.” They raised more than $10,000 -- enough to outfit two hospitals with screening devices. The Ministry of Health worked with the club on both events, which indicates the issue’s importance for Mongolia, says Enkhtur Sodnomtseren, chair of the club’s service committee.
“Hearing disability has been largely ignored by the government, as it is seen as low-priority in the overall list of pressing health issues,” says Sodnomtseren. “It’s also been under the radar of most charity and grant organizations. We as a club want to fill this gap. We can see that with a little extra effort and time, we can dramatically improve the quality of life, for not only the affected babies, but their families as well.”
Sodnomtseren says that the club, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Health, can expand the project. It hopes to raise enough funds to supply every maternity ward with screening devices and training over the next few years. More than 78,000 infants will be tested each year, he estimates.
Batjargal, who plans to train other medical practitioners in how to use the screening devices, says this project exemplifies the positive change Rotary can make.
“Instead of waiting for the government to address this problem, our Rotary club has decided to solve it,” says Batjargal. “We’re making a major contribution to society. This is simply what we do.”