By Kristel Coombes

There may be up to 5000 Gibraltarians that struggle to hear a conversation prior to the age of 60. However, as a result of the stigma, they refrain from seeking treatment. The Gibraltar Hearing Impaired and Tinnitus Association (GHITA), a non-profit association advocating the needs of the hearing impaired, work towards promoting ear and hearing care across Gibraltar.

GHITA are working tirelessly to bring about change for the deaf community in Gibraltar, working in close collaboration with the GHA to enhance and further develop audiology services. As a result, the GHA has recently undertaken an initiative to register persons affected with hearing loss or impairment, who wish to do so. The association are currently trying to authorise the GHA Occupational Therapy Service, in order to classify the individual struggling with hearing loss as “potentially vulnerable”. This would ensure there is a clear exchange of information between various community services in Gibraltar, enabling better evaluation, assessment and treatment of patients.

The association is currently working towards securing a premises and the necessary equipment for ENT’s to treat patients dealing with hearing loss in Gibraltar, as opposed to referring them to specialists in the UK. Furthermore, they were involved in the appointment of a new paediatric audiologist from New Zealand in Gibraltar. GHITA has also worked with the Department of Education in the submission of education guidelines for people with hearing loss. They believe that deafness or hearing loss is a sensory difference which only becomes a disability when the educational system fails the child and the family.

The association recently celebrated their 10th anniversary by hosting three events in Gibraltar’s city centre. The first event unveiled the latest statistics on hearing health and hearing loss prevention. Various stalls were in place at Mackintosh Hall, displaying samples of different assistive equipment, including hearing loops. This allowed individuals with hearing difficulties to experience the benefits of hearing aids first hand. Amongst the exhibitors and traders were Carmen Vasquez, an audiologist from Oiga Mas and representatives of Sign Code and Sign Video UK. The second event offered a free medical service, highlighting the importance of early identification and intervention for hearing loss. Communication with ENT specialists was available throughout the open clinic and member recruitment committee members were also present, listening to any issues or concerns the community had. The objective of these events was to target and educate community members on what is available locally, whilst creating awareness.

The GHITA manifesto was shared at the third event. The manifesto defined the actions and provisions which are necessary in order to aid those using hearing loops in Gibraltar. The association proposes long-term solutions which should be implemented in regards to disability, including hearing loss. Although some degree of infrastructure has been in place in the past, GHITA believe that this should be maximised. They have also requested that GBC provide closed caption subtitles and British Sign Language interpreting on its broadcasts, along with an amendment to the Telecommunications Act and building regulations.

GHITA intends to promote early and careful evaluation and treatment for those suffering from hearing loss in Gibraltar. In order to achieve this, it is critical that the health care system in place recognizes the importance of early identification and treatment. Nevertheless, perceptions must change regarding hearing loss, in order to increase the number of individuals who ultimately benefit from early management. Any type and degree of hearing loss will have a substantial impact on many aspects of living. However, most people take their hearing for granted – that is, until they lose it. It is time for Gibraltar to understand hearing loss. Take action and protect your hearing, before it is too late.