Canadian pediatricians urge newborn hearing screening

OTTAWA–When it comes to providing its citizens with healthcare coverage, Canada has generally gone far beyond the United States. For example, its publicly funded health system ensures that all Canadians have access to free medical care.

However, universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS), which  the U.S. introduced more than a decade ago, does not yet exist in most of its northern neighbor’s provinces. However, that may change.

On May 9, the Canadian Paediatric Society released a position statement stressing the importance of UNHS. Currently only Ontario and British Columbia screen all newborns for hearing loss. Quebec approved funding of such a program in 2009, but it has not been implemented

In Canada’s other seven provinces and in its northern territories, babies are generally tested only if they fall into high-risk categories, such as being born prematurely or having a serious infection.

Hema Patel, MD, lead author of the Paediatric Society’s statement, stressed the importance of UNHS. She said, “This is critical and we’re sadly behind the times. There’s no excuse for Canada’s dismal record in this area.” She added that not only most other Western nations, but even some undeveloped nations, such as Nigeria, have UNHS programs.

Patel, a staff pediatrician at Montreal Children’s Hospital, noted that a baby born in a province with universal screening “has the opportunity to have an early diagnosis, an early intervention, and to reach their full potential cognitively with language and communication.” In other provinces, babies with hearing loss are typically diagnosed much later, after already experiencing developmental delay. As a result, said Patel, “They’re going to have different outcomes–lifelong.”

Rex Banks, chief audiologist at the Canadian Hearing Society, said that his group is also strongly supportive of universal screening.