UNICEF supplies hundreds of children with life-changing hearing aids

A shipment of 1,200 hearing aids have arrived in Rwanda, the first delivery since this life-changing product was made available through UNICEF for a low cost.

Pascaline smiles after testing her hearing aids for the first time, speaking easily with her mother.
24 June 2022

With these hearing aids hundreds of children can now hear their teacher at school and communicate with their parents, allowing more independence and participation. For children with profound hearing loss, it may be the first time they hear their parents’ voices.  

Pascaline, 13, was diagnosed as having moderate to severe hearing loss. She could only hear her mother when she spoke very loudly and faced her.

“In order to communicate with my child at home, I had to shout. Otherwise, she couldn’t hear me and would make me repeat what I just said,” says her mother, Uwimana.  

However, within in moments of being fitted with two UNICEF-supplied hearing aids Pascaline and her mother could communicate with ease.

The smile says it all. Watch the moment Pascaline was able to test out her hearing aids for the first time, speaking easily with her mother.

The hearing aids were provided to children in four districts, Nyagatare, Huye, Nyabihu and Nyarugenge, as part of a pilot programme in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

This was made possible after five different types of hearing aids were added to the Supply Catalogue in late 2021 as part of UNICEF’s work to increase the availability and affordability of quality assistive products and services in low- and middle-income countries. 

94 per cent price reduction  

UNICEF was able to significantly reduce the prices for these quality devices, providing them to the Government of Rwanda for $118. At this point in time, the same hearing aid can cost as much as $2,000 if buying it commercially within Rwanda. The 94 per cent price reduction means the Government can reach many more children with these life-changing products.  

The low cost was achieved through strategic supplier engagement and comprehensive and transparent industry consultations, followed by a global tender issued jointly with the World Health Organization. Long-term agreements were then awarded to the most competitive suppliers, ensuring UNICEF is now able to offer low-cost high-quality products to governments. Governments and partners looking to procure and implement quality assistive technology under these contracts can receive support and advice through UNICEF Supply Division's Procurement Services.

A young child in her mother's arms is fitted for hearing aids.
A child is fitted for hearing aids at a school in Rwanda.

The hearing aids have been reviewed against the World Health Organization technical specifications to ensure they are high-quality and robust.  

UNICEF also worked with the supplier to arrange the screening and fitting of the hearing aids and train local staff. This will help build local capacity, transferring knowledge and skills on hearing aid fitting and testing, building a stronger health system for the future.  

In Nyagatare province, 300 children previously identified as having hearing difficulties were screened through a series of tests at a local school. Most children examined were found to have severe to profound loss of hearing.  

They were then referred to the on-site audiologist who measured the exact degree of hearing loss for different frequencies in each ear. Using this data, hearing aids were programmed specifically for each child. 

A pre-programmable behind-the-ear hearing aid supplied by UNICEF.
A pre-programmable behind-the-ear hearing aid supplied by UNICEF for $118. The same product currently can cost as much as $2,000 in Rwanda.

‘Gold-standard’ of hearing aids

Programmable hearing aids are considered the ‘gold-standard’ as they can be set up to compensate for an individual’s specific hearing loss. However, this requires a trained audiologist to be available, which is not always feasible in some low-income countries. Therefore, UNICEF also has pre-programmed hearing aids available for procurement which come with three inbuilt channels.

UNICEF teams are working to introduce more assistive products to the Supply Catalogue. Recently, eight different types of wheelchairs were added. UNICEF also worked with industry to develop an innovative add-on which makes the latrine slabs deployed in emergencies accessible for people with disabilities.  

Future initiatives will include developing a disability hygiene kit for emergencies with products that support individuals with incontinence, a condition that disproportionately affects persons with disabilities. UNICEF also plans to introduce quality assistive vision products into the Supply Catalogue, including glasses, which will ensure children with vision challenges have an equal chance to fulfill their full potential.