This week Andy Bellavia is joined by Deaftronics co-founder, Tendekayi Katsiga, and Georgia Tech professor, Dr. Saad Bhamla, to discuss their respective projects aimed at addressing the global crisis of hearing loss.
Deaftronics, based in Botswana, designs and manufactures affordable hearing aids that utilize solar power, while promoting awareness and accessibility to hearing care solutions, particularly in low-resource and underserved communities.
For more information on these projects visit:
Research articles mentioned in this discussion:
- LoCHAid: An ultra-low-cost hearing aid for age-related hearing loss
- Comparing outcomes of ultra-low-cost hearing aids to programmable, refurbished hearing aids for adults with high frequency hearing loss in Malawi: a feasibility study
Hello everyone, and welcome to this Week in Hearing. I’m joined today by two people working to address the global pandemic of untreated hearing loss. In some ways, this is a follow up to the panel discussion I hosted for Hearing Health & Technology Matters Future of Hearing Healthcare Conference. That discussion, which will be linked in the show notes, is excellent background for this conversation. In that panel, Shelley Chadha, the WHO shared their initiative to provide hearing care services in primary care settings globally in countries where audiologists barely exist. Doing so could address more than half of hearing problems because they’re due to issues such as cerumen buildup and otitis. With my other guests, we discussed the tools needed to deliver effective hearing care in this way. And we also touched on how to deploy cost effective hearing devices when indicating it’s an important issue because according to the WHO, there are several hundred million people with debilitating hearing loss. Most are in developing countries. One of my guests, Tendekayi Katsiga, was actually to be part of that panel and rather to the point, rolling power cuts in Botswana prevented him from joining. Tendekayi established a company called Deaftronics to locally build and dispense solar charging hearing aids. You may have seen him on CNN a couple of years ago. My other guest, Saad Bhamla, a professor at Georgia Tech, attracted the attention of Microsoft for developing a hearing aid with a targeted $1 material cost. You may have read about that in Hearing Health & Technology Matters. There was a recent article as two people taking concrete measures to address hearing loss on global basis, it’s my honor to have them with me today. Let’s begin by having each introduce themselves and share a bit about why they decided to launch their initiatives, beginning with Tendekayi. Hello, Andy. How are you? Thank you so much for this opportunity. My journey started a few years ago when I was working at a non governmental organization in Otse in Botswana. I was working with hearing impaired people. But during this process of working together, we realized that really their batteries were running off. They were really not really be able to hear or communicate. So what we decided to do was to recruit hearing impaired students from Ramotswa School of the Deaf, where we started to design a solar powered hearing aid to find a solution. Because really, if you look at it, the hearing aid batteries are expensive and you can’t find them mostly in rural areas, mostly in Africa. So given a chance, people rather buy bread than buy hearing aid batteries. So as a result, we started develop. Bring a solar powered hearing aid which charges your hearing aid batteries. The whole idea was also to make sure that there’s a continuation of using hearing aids so that also children can go to school. Because what we believe in, we believe that only through education, that’s when we can break the cycle of poverty. So, as a result, we started designing this solar powered hearing aid. The input was coming from hearing impaired students from Ramotswa School of the Deaf and we did this and we managed to develop a solar powered hearing aids through the prototyping process. And also the ideation and when we managed to have a product, we did a pilot project, especially using this school of the deaf And then we found out that really most of the first prototype was overcharging the batteries and it was not cutting off. So what we did was during feedback we realized that really we need also to have a cut off voltage where the battery needs to be hearing aid batteries needs to be charged at 1.2 volts. We managed to do that. But also the other issue is like we had an issue of reverse battery polarity where people could just put the batteries in the slot and the batteries were bent out because there was no reverse battery polarity. So during the feedback process, we also managed to rectify that issue. In the end, we have, I’ll say, the most sustainable, affordable solar powered hearing aid and the most input came from people who are hearing impact. Well, I think that’s really important, really in all areas of accessibility is to iterate and have feedback from the people who would actually use your device. And so I think that’s much to your credit because the journey to creating a viable hearing aid is not an easy one, especially when you’re trying to meet local conditions. So Saad, please give your background and tell how you embarked upon this journey or why. Wonderful to be here with you all. I’m here joining in from sunny Atlanta in Georgia, USA, and I’m a faculty here in the lab. We do curiosity driven science and frugal science. And in this spirit we’re always thinking, know, exploring fundamental questions as well as trying to put on our engineering hats and think about accessible and affordable solutions. Specifically on the hardware side to challenges in science education, global health and planetary health. In fact, I grew up in the Middle East as an immigrant family in the by and then I went to do my schooling in India and I distinctly. Remember when I got into college, I was pretty happy. I was able to afford this is in very early 2000s a phone at that time as a young adult who got into college And I had a phone and I felt like, oh, this is great. I’m coming up in life. And when I went home to see my grand grandparents, at that time, they were getting old. I think my grandfather was 70 ish maybe 68. And my grandmother was a little bit older, just slightly over 70. And it was very clear both of them were having challenges in hearing because my grandfather, they’d been married for more than 30 years. He would lovingly always sit on the right side of my grandmother so as to not make her aware that she couldn’t hear. And it’s interesting because I’d see their pictures and he’s always on the side with a good hearing. And I thought to myself, oh, I’m coming up in the world. I can afford a phone. I should do something for my grandparents because I can. And I should buy hearing aids. And this is in Mumbai. And I went to check the price of hearing aids so that I could surprise my grandparents. And it was very sobering, because even at that time, I could afford a phone, but I could not afford hearing aids. They were exorbitant. It was a very sobering feeling, kind of feeling of helplessness because I was an engineer. And I was thinking to myself, this is ridiculous. Anyways, long story short, that kind of experience stayed with me throughout my career. I did my PhD in postdoc at Stanford in the Bay Area and when I started my lab here at Georgia Tech. We’ve been consciously thinking about the challenge of building hardware, because hardware is very critical for many challenges, whether you want to share the joy of science for children or biomedical devices. And they’re often both the enabler but also the impediment. Because information, if you have WiFi and a phone is free, literally. But hardware is really critical. So we build low cost tools. I’ve built children’s toys inspired paper centrifuges for malaria diagnostics. We’ve built a barbecue lighter inspired mRNA vaccine delivery device, which we’ve translated into a company. Now, that’s commercializing. It and we’re working on this one dollars hearing aid that in parts with this vision that every older person globally should have the access to an affordable and accessible hearing improvement solution. And we want to kind of think about this dream if we can make it such that we can bring this to reality and happy to discuss more. Well, thank you for sharing your personal story. There’s a couple of things that are really interesting to me there one is that there are more and more companies entering. From outside the hearing industry and bringing your own thinking. And that’s going to be a wellspring of innovation. And you come really from a design thinking perspective, not at all a hearing perspective. And the other point is that while today’s hearing devices are really good for the markets they serve, the markets they serve are a small fraction of the global population who needs hearing care. And this is now thanks to both modern technology and the initiatives of people like the both of you, we have a better chance than ever of addressing hearing loss on a global basis than is possible by traditional means. So Tendekayi tell me a little bit more about specifically what you’re doing. Because you didn’t only design a solar charging hearing aid, but you’re thinking about how to deploy that hearing aid and how to build that hearing aid. Give me a little bit of an idea how you bring the parts together to form a hearing aid that you’re building within Botswana. Okay, what we basically do is our company is called Deaftronics at Deaftronics. We manufacture affordable solar powered hearing aids made by people who are hearing impaired for people with a hearing loss. Our products, we get some of our components, that is from China mostly the solar panels, the microphones and the receivers and some of the materials, we procure them locally and like PCBs. So we also train people in how to do the assembly of the solar power DME. So most of it is done in an assembly line where people do different parts in soldering and then we complete the wall from leather, from receivers, PCBs switches. And then the last stage is the closing of the final assembly is like where we close everything and then we test the hearing aids and also we do the testing of these solar charges and just to check if there’s compatibility and how well the battery is going to be charged and how they are going also to sustain the power. For we always wanted to know the duration. But also above that, we also developed a mobile application called MGRID which does hearing tests in real time. We came up with this idea when we realized that really the best way in preventing hearing loss is through detection. Because what we did was when we found out that really when we developed an affordable solar power hearing aid, we found out that’s not the solution we need to go to the root causes. Because if find that really most people really will suffer from hearing loss. They have never been really been tested. They don’t know the level of the hearing loss which they suffer from because this is mostly because most of the audiologists, they reside in cities, they are not in rural areas. And secondly, it’s expensive to get your hearing tested and also it takes time to get your results. So we wanted to disrupt this, wanted to bring solution to the people, especially in marginalized cities, mostly in rural areas. So we developed this mobile application which tests your hearing level in real time and you get your results instantly and in the cloud. And our audiologists will just read the results and also give her professional advice pertaining to the patient. So we also came with that idea because we also wanted to be like to our products and services, to complement each other. Because we want it to be one shop which serves everyone. Different people with need, different needs, but in one space where you can come to our place and then we can also test you and also provide you with the solar power during aid. Also on top of that, we also manage to reduce that is like the prices, our prices of our products. For example, our products which starts, it consists of a solar charger a year and aid and four rechargeable batteries. It costs $100. That means for a period of three years, you’re not going to buy any hearing aid batteries. And for you to get tested, it cost you a dollar instead of versus $50 where if you go to audiologist. So this is what we’ve managed to do and also managed to reduce the price that we’ve made it. I would say we’ve socialized in disruptive industry at the same time. Okay, so yeah, you’re providing the awareness, the diagnostic tool and then also the hearing aid. And how are the hearing aids actually dispensed? Okay, mostly what we do is we work with non governmental organizations like UNICEF. What they do is they go to mostly marginalized communities where they are audiologists and they measure their children mostly in deaf schools. And when they collect the results, they send us the results of hearing aids, which with those I think, audiograms, and then we provide them with the hearing aids which suit their hearing losses and then that’s how they are dispersed. Okay, very good. And I have one other question for you right now, and that is what made you choose to build them in Botswana as opposed to just sourcing a complete hearing aid from somewhere else? Well, I think if we look at it, most of the Botswana really offers more, I would say incentives for manufacturing companies. And also it’s also good for because the government in Botswana. Now is moving, I would say, from a diamond based economy to a knowledge based economy. So hence they’re also facilitating a lot of manufacturing companies so that really they scale out. They become fully fledged companies. So that’s where we fit in. So we’re also fitting in with the government’s program and also they’ve managed to set a lot of labs, a lot of innovation hubs so that really any company which manufacturing is assisted. Okay, so local manufacturing in part because you’re employing local hearing impaired people and you’re also taking advantage of the government innovation programs to launch and scale your operation. Sure, yes. Okay. And then Saad, you’re taking a completely different approach because your device is not looking like a standard hearing aid and of course you’re approaching it with different goals in mind. Tell us a little bit more about the initiative, what it looks like, what stage in development you’re at and what your end goals are. Yeah, before I dive into that, I will say know really what Tendekayi’s Deaftronics is hitting upon is kind of each of these really hard problems with hearing aids that at surface you might think it’s a hardware problem, which is typically where an engineer like me will come in and think, oh, let’s solve the hardware problem. And then of course you realize it’s more than just hardware, it’s the issue. And like he alluded to and that his organization is doing, which is very inspiring for us because we think about these things and realize these are not things that a person like me, far away, can appreciate unless you’re on the ground and talking to your customers, which is a battery issue, which is where the solar charging batteries are critical. Because even if you give a hearing aid for free, you’re really burdening your user by buying expensive zinc, air, whatever costly batteries that might not be accessible. And also kind of doing the process innovation because we saw in the pandemic, you cannot just expect to import everything. So having some local control that you can have like Deaftronics does, is very critical. And so we’re trying to look at their model and start to think about as we come to our devices, how do we emulate and think about that and partner, if possible with Tendekayi to kind of not have to reinvent the wheel but also not be so blindsided to just think hardware is the solution. It’s much more and we have to think about like they are doing very beautifully, is thinking about the customer, what they need to sustainably and long term solve a problem rather than a one shot, one touch kind of solution that may end up in a drawer somewhere. Having said that, we for the last six plus years started thinking about this idea. Initially it was just kind of this scientific curiosity question could we build a one dollar hearing aid in parts? And how good would it be? The one dollars constraint we apply to all our frugal science kind of devices because we kind of constrain ourselves in this Box of a Dollar, and then we have to think outside this Box to develop, come up a clear, clever innovation process innovations or material innovations or technological innovations. Because in low and middle income countries, oftentimes a monthly in some countries, even annual medical expenditure budget that a person will have who might be our desired customer, maybe $2 to $2 a half dollars. And so we’d like to not offer a very expensive solution. So initially started with this intellectual kind of conceptual idea and so we were able to build prototypes using open hardware and mass manufactured electronics and we quickly realized that it is indeed possible to build. So the cost that most hearing aids have are not, they don’t cost thousands of dollars because the parts are that expensive which should not be a surprise. We all recognize that that even biomedical devices are inflated not because of the cost of the device but what a consumer is willing to pay and the regulatory process that goes into it and then creating kind of an organization structure around it. And so we were able to figure out a process in which we wrote up a paper in plus one in 2020 that demonstrated that using the gold standard testing in lab using verifit and electroacoustic measurements that this one dollars in parts device performed as good as any commercial hearing aid. Given the caveat that this is very focused on age related hearing loss in which older people lose their hearing after a 1kHz frequency. So all we’re trying to do is we’ve created kind of a solution which is not a fitting for all hearing impairments but specifically targeting older individuals who will use high frequency loss. The loose inspiration for it is similar to how biology fails in a spectacular consistent way as we grow older because we all also lose vision. So it’s easy to buy reading glasses and you kind of go to a pharmacy or you can buy it online and you can just test which one works because the variation in failure because of biological mechanisms is in a narrow scope and you can discretize it. And so hearing also loosely is a similar fashion. I say loosely because the devil is in the details and there. Is huge difference between vision and hearing. But that was the thought process we approached. And our thought was that at least we would reduce the part where you would have to do any kind of screening or understanding of what the hearing loss profile was. Because we’d make it to the average profile and we’d have a mild and moderate, and we’d have two switches on our Widget which we have on our current prototype. And a person would wear one and say oh this is good, oh this is better, or not, and they’d be good to go. The value proposition being, can we bring some quality of life improvement in somebody’s life who has absolutely nothing, no device? And this one would be kind of a key intervention for critical times. Maybe they’re having a communication, maybe they’re at church and they want to listen to a sermon, or they’re having a business transaction and so on and so forth. And the question still was, can this improve the quality of life at one dollar? And what quality of life would it improve? We didn’t want all the bells and whistles. Where we are right now is last year we finished our going from a lab based testing to human based testing is again to ask our consumer. So we did a field work in partners with Deaf Kids International in Malawi. We wrote up that paper out in Frontier’s Journal earlier this year, where we did small annual, so maybe ten people who wore our devices for a month compared it with a commercial donated devices, which is the norm in Malawi, because almost every hearing aid in Malawi is a refurbished, donated hearing aid from UK. Because in UK, because of the government’s plan, healthcare plan, you can go and get a new one and the older ones, non governmental organizations will donate after refurbishing them. So we showed in that paper that qualitatively, in qualitative feedback assessments, the users could not distinguish between a refurbished commercial hearing aid and our LoCHAid device. Again, you should take this assessment with a big pinch of salt because it’s small end, so statistically not very viable. But again, for us it’s encouraging feedback, suggesting that at least on the hardware side, we’re good. But we got then a load of feedback. They were like, well, we don’t like the blue color you chose because it’s this. And then the batteries, we don’t like this battery. We’d like it to be chargeable with micro USBC because we have our phones and it’s easier because they all have phones. So we’d like it to be compatible with our phone charger. And we know we charge our phone at night, we’ll charge and the list goes on and on paper. And so we came back and said, well this is great because if consumers didn’t want to give back our device after a month, meaning we’ve at least made some thing that people are willing to use for a month which is a huge deal, and they’re not willing to give it time. Which is again, good. At least some of them didn’t want to give it back because they were like, let us keep this. Okay, good, we must be on the right track. But then they had lots and lots of feedback for us, which is great because a problem with me sitting in an ivory tower in Atlanta, USA and trying to solve a problem, a global health problem, is obviously you should be very critical about me saying all these things. And so with our partners, we are very receptive. We go out, listen to our consumers, and then come back because an undergraduate at Georgia Tech may be able to solve a problem they think is a problem in our temperature controlled and humidity control labs. But then you put it out to the test, you realize in a real day to day, over a month period, all the things that fall apart and the soldering falls apart. So now we’re at a place where we are improving. We’ve got a beautiful new design, and it just gives us motivation. And now we’re grateful to have partners. A couple of foundations are supporting us just because we’re in it for the long haul and we’re slowly making progress and we don’t know where the success might be, but we’re slowly heading, I think, in the right direction. And we have one more Malawi trial planned in October of this year with this new version, going back and doing another pilot work and seeing if our users agree that we’ve incorporated their feedback and see where that takes us. Okay, excellent. And you anticipated one of my questions because I was going to ask you how you’re going to demonstrate efficacy, but you obviously understand what’s needed and are embarking on that journey. And by narrowing the scope, it makes a lot of sense because age related hearing loss is one of the most common forms. I don’t know if it’s above or below noise induced, but it’s certainly up there. And you’re working in areas where a 70% solution is better than a 0% solution, because a 100% gold standard Western model of hearing care just isn’t available in many of the places of the world. I’ll add one thought to that, which I hadn’t anticipated, but it’s worthwhile to just reflect upon, and it’s the perception change because it’s not a free device. Even if you give 100 or $1,000 free hearing aid to somebody, they still know, and we all have grandmothers, and some of your listeners might be at that stage where we will understand the value of an object. We understand the cost of an object, and we know that it’s precious because we don’t know when we get the second one. And it’s fragile and it’s expensive, so we might save it, we may not be rough with it, we may be worried it might fall, our hands might shake. But if you know a device in parts costs only a dollar, then you can actually be a little bit more carefree with it, and you may use it and say, you know what? I can have one in my pocket, one in my backpack, one at my office, whatever I can have. And you kind of be free with it and know that. Even if you drop it, it’s not the end of the world. And your investment in this device is low. And I think sometimes with this hearing aid, I don’t know if it’s a big deal, but there is a perception issue because you’re much more careful and hesitant to use something if your perception is this is very costly and irreplaceable. You’re more geared, especially if you’re an older person from a different generation, to preserving it and carefully keeping it in their velvet cloth and protecting it and not using it as much as it used to because you’re worried it might get dust or it might get moisture. And so I think you’re trying to also see if this device addresses the perception issue so you become a little bit more comfortable. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to use the locate, you might use hopefully a much better Tendekayi’s device. And that’s totally okay. That doesn’t matter. The point is that you should recognize this problem just as Tendekayi kind of illustrated this beautifully is you have to recognizing the issue is half the battle won. And I want to ask Tendekayi a question based on what you just said. And that is really if I kind of look at the high level view of what you said, is that the way people perceive hearing loss, the way people perceive and interact with their devices is going to be very different from place to place. You’re describing that fine line between not wanting people to be afraid to use the thing and yet at the same time you want them to have a little bit of investment in it and not to abuse it or sell it on the open market. Or you want them to perceive the value of it so that they take care of it, but not be afraid to use it because it might get broken if they do. And again, this is going to be very different from place to place, from culture to culture. And so the question I want to ask you, Tendekayi, is what you’re doing in the southern part of Africa, how does that scale? In other words, your experience is unique to the region you’re working in. And yet some things are in common, like the value of local manufacture, the value of having feet on the ground in each region you’re working at so that you can iterate and develop solutions. And a way of taking those solutions to the end users that fits regionally and culturally. So how do you take what you’re doing and what you’re successful doing in Botswana, in neighboring countries and make that work in other areas of the world altogether? What do you think is needed to do that? I think mostly to sometimes also have to break the culture taboo, mostly in Africa in the sense that most of the parents really like they are still really hiding their children who suffer from hearing loss. It’s more like a case. So what do? Need to do is, like, to bring more awareness on hearing empowerment, on hearing loss, that really this can be prevented. And people can live a normal life through early detection and also through providing hearing aids to children mostly who are maybe three years and above, so that really they can also learn the language and also be incepted in schools. So it’s much to do with more to do with also government policies. Also, like, with the government advocates for having babies being tested early and also providing hearing aids to people and also just talking about it and making sure that everyone understands it. Because we also had some situations whereby when we provided hearing aids to children, the whole thing, it was like a taboo because other children who were not really having hearing aids, who were hearing, they were pulling out those hearing aids from children who put on the hearing aid. So what do we do now? Because this is like, more of stigmatization. So what we did was we ended up putting, I would say, cartoons on the hearing aid. Like, Mickey Mouse, you know all these cartoons. Tom and Jerry. Football heroes. Messi. Ronaldo. So those kids who put on hearing aids at school, they looked cooler than those who don’t really have hearing aids. So everybody wanted to have a hearing aid. Everyone wanted to understand how it works. So we also have these shows, like, maybe mostly on Innovation Day, where we go in mostly rural settings, where we bring a simulator, where we put on a hearing aid and show how it works to people. Like, wow, that’s how it works. So more people now are more aware, and more people now are not afraid to put on hearing AIDS because they understand really the positive impact of a hearing aid. So I think that basically, that’s what we do. And also, the other question was on you, on how we also go into other countries. I think it was a question based on scaling into other countries, more like that, maybe. Yeah, we also work with mostly NGOs in different countries, so it’s easier for us to go and sit into another country because really, some of these NGOs, they also use our products. So I’ll give you an example. Like Zimbabwe, we worked with UNICEF in Zimbabwe, where we also dispensed hearing aids. And also we did some short film by UNICEF. So when people see that film, it just brings more awareness and also more acceptance on the use of hearing aid. Okay. So I think. The key to what you just said there is that you’re not trying to do everything yourself, but you’re working through local NGOs who are familiar with the cultures and the landscape in each region. They’re working so that your solution can be exported, if you will, to different regions because they’re being adapted to the requirements of that particular region, which is something you also said, Saad. And wonder then, because what you are doing, including helping to break the cultural taboos which prevent people from getting hearing care. How well does this fit with the UN’s initiative to bring hearing care around the world? Their goal really is to bring hearing care to local medical clinics where you can do diagnosis there and treatment of a lot of things like otitis, for example, ear infections or earwax build up and the like. But they’re also then trying to bring awareness of hearing care in treatment where possible locally. And of course, they don’t talk so much about dispensing hearing devices, they’re talking more about everything else. But even so, as they begin to deploy training materials and awareness and enabling local medical clinics to address hearing, how does that fit with what you’re doing? And can you take advantage of that? Saad why don’t you answer first and then kai yeah, it’s a good point. And I think what we are really raising is this multifaceted challenge just centered around just years. And hearing from that perspective, at least, where we position ourselves is we consider ourselves hardware builders, right? Because we each kind of have to stick to our strengths. And as engineers, I think we think we can build the best accessible, affordable kind of device and performance and then identify partners for each region such that we can kind of combine them with services, because this last mile delivery problem is a real one, and there are organizations who are much better and equipped at doing that. And our focus is on the hardware and then working with others who might bring it to the last mile. A second part over there, which is something that we haven’t yet cracked, but it sounds like Deaftronics has been doing this, is also thinking about of the process, innovation, how we’re going to locally manufacture. in each of these in different regions. And this will vary whether this is going to be in Afghanistan or Iraq or Malawi or Botswana or India because of regulatory concerns, because, of course, local manufacturing. So in an ideal world, we’re not just shipping things either made in the US. Or China, but actually locally, locally, in quotes, that it could be in that region. In a particular region, it could be in Pakistan, but then it could be supplied or India, and then supplied to Thailand and then Southeast Asia. And so these are the challenges to think about, how do we actually facilitate that? And what’s needed is actually an innovation and quality and manufacturing a little bit, and distribution, which we’re not there yet. And then I think is the part the second leg to it is how do we then connect with distributors and who might bring it to the last mile and or at the village level or the community level? So these are kind of hard things that we’re thinking about, at least with our device. But, yeah, I can’t claim I have answers, but I know the problem. Well, Tendekayi knows the problem and is working on solutions and has been doing this for a while. So tell me what you think about that, both in the context of the UN’s or WHO’s initiative and also what Saad said and what you’re working on. Okay, so if you look at our mobile application, MDRET, which means M stands for mobile, D stands for detection, r stands for research, e stands for education, the other, E stands for equipment, and the last T stands for training. So if we look at the R, this is where we do like, there are a lot of components into this where we are having research, where we’re collecting data. So this is where international health organizations fit in, because really the biggest issue which we have right now in Africa is like, we don’t have data. We don’t know how many people who suffer from a hearing. Like, we don’t have data, we don’t have the correct data. So once we collect the data, we will lie with our government and say, you know what, this is how at a certain area, why that really in this region, there are more people who suffer from a hearing loss as compared to this region. So the government really also needs to we need to work with the universities where they also have to do research and try to find out is it like people have got lack of access to health facilities or maybe their diet, maybe their lifestyle? And then we also have a situation whereby we also now present this data to international organizations. And this is where they come in. And all they come in with a lot. Of resources and try to find out how we can find a solution to all these things that we are doing. So that’s how basically, that’s where they fit in. Okay. And of course, how exactly we address the global pandemic of untreated hearing loss is yet to be found. But through the work you both are doing, you can almost see a pathway here that leads from the design of the devices that address as much of the problem as possible in ways that will work in different regions, especially regions where the health ministries have no money to address this issue. So it leads from the devices. How do you actually build and deploy the devices? By doing it locally, you create an infrastructure of manufacturing which is much better than centralized, because you can tailor each one for local regions. And then working with local organizations, local health ministries, local NGOs, so you can start to see you two are part of a chain of different links that go from device conception to delivery on the ground in a local village in a way that’s always accounting for local needs. And I really think that is the pathway that’s going to lead to success here. So, Saad, you look like you ought to say something, but please, Tendekayi has been doing this for a while. I’m a little bit new to this, only six years. And then Robert Capita of Capita Foundation, who’s the first person who supported our idea of building a $1 hearing aid and continues to fund us. I keep going every one or two years back to him for more funding as we learn more. And sometimes I’m embarrassed to ask him for more support, saying, oh, my goodness, we’re still such a long way to go. And he always says this quote, he says, well, the difficult things we do right away, the impossible takes a little longer. And I think this is just like you articulated, this is a huge issue, but I think there’s hope and it’s nice to work on, I think, the right problems rather than solve even once. Well, and I think you’re both working on the right problem. And my hats off to you both. You’re both working on the right problem and thinking about each stage that’s required to deliver solutions to people in different places around the world. And that’s very exciting to see both of your work coming together and the fact that you’re even talking and cooperating with each other to make this happen. It’s going to be a very different landscape five and ten years from now than it is now, and all for the better. So as we wrap it up, I want to give each of you the chance. Saad, you begin. Tell the audience how people can reach you if they have any questions. And also, how can individuals or even companies support your effort going forward? Yeah. My last name is Bhamla. So our lab website is bhamla.gatech.edu And really, at this stage, what I didn’t mention is, with some of our foundation support, we’re getting ready maybe in the next six to eight months, to spin out a company that will take this out from the university and translate this device and bring it from both a US. Europe context, but also in a low and middle income country context. And if there are people who think about manufacturing, process innovation and care about this and from a commercial and translation perspective, we’d be excited to engage and discuss. We haven’t incorporated a company yet, but we’re kind of figuring out our regulatory and business pathways. So, yeah, we’re open to any and all engagements as we kind of get this out of the university to a more independent entity. Okay, terrific. From my point of view, I urge people to have a look at what you’re doing and as you commercialize the product, how they can get involved to speed its success. And I’ll also make sure that in the show notes that we have your email and other links properly recorded there. Tendekayi, how can people reach you and how can they support your efforts? Okay, our website is www. deaftronics.com. Our LinkedIn is Deatronics. Our Twitter is at Deatronics. Our Facebook is also at Deaftronics. And people we need to pull out our resources together and also assist us in distribution. And also our biggest also major challenge is also when it comes to earmolds. Really, we also need to embark on 3D earmold. I think they are perfect, really, because Saad talked about feedback. I think the best with the best earmolds, it reduces a lot of feedback. So we’re also working on that. So we also need assistance when it comes to providing the best quality of earmolds. Well, I want to thank you both for joining the show today. It was a really interesting conversation. I’m looking forward to having another one a couple of years from now and really talking about the progress you’ve made and how far you’ve go on in addressing the pandemic of hearing loss. So thank you both for joining and thank you everyone for watching this episode of this Week in Hearing.
**Readers may also be interested to review: Future of Hearing Healthcare Panel Discussion: Ear and Hearing Care for All: We Can Make It Happen
About the Panel
Andrew Bellavia is the Founder of AuraFuturity. He has experience in international sales, marketing, product management, and general management. Audio has been both of abiding interest and a market he served professionally in these roles. Andrew has been deeply embedded in the hearables space since the beginning and is recognized as a thought leader in the convergence of hearables and hearing health. He has been a strong advocate for hearing care innovation and accessibility, work made more personal when he faced his own hearing loss and sought treatment All these skills and experiences are brought to bear at AuraFuturity, providing go-to-market, branding, and content services to the dynamic and growing hearables and hearing health spaces.
Saad Bhamla, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, where he runs a lab that researches organismic biophysics, soft matter, and frugal science. Prior to joining Georgia Tech, Bhamla was a Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Bioengineering at Stanford University, where he also completed his PhD in Chemical Engineering. Bhamla is a prolific inventor and his more notable inventions include a 20-cent paper centrifuge, a 23-cent electroporator, and the 96-cent hearing aid. Saad’s work has been recognized with numerous awards including an NSF Career Grant, Innovation in MedTech Award, and INDEX: Design to Improve Life Award.
Tendekayi Katsiga is an electronic engineer who realized that 70% of the hearing aids distributed in Africa are only used for a month, due the high cost and unavailability of batteries. Based in Botswana, Tendekayi decided to harness the power of sunlight to help deaf children of the developing world, where electricity is scarce and batteries are expensive. Determined to make a lasting change in the world, he founded Deaftronics – a company that creates solar-powered hearing aids manufactured by people with hearing impairments.