Argentina at GICCA 2015: Debating the present and future of implants

Argentinian professionals are at the forefront in cochlear implants, and this why they will be present and very active at the GICCA congress, where they will exchange a wealth of experiences.

Argentina has a law governing early detection of hearing loss, as well as professionals trained up for over three decades in cochlear implants (CI), many of whom will be in Brazil to take part in the VI Iberoamerican Conference on Cochlear Implants and Related Sciences (GICCA). Audio Infos spoke to doctors Carlos Curet and Leopoldo Cordero, members of the GICCA founding committee, and to Gladys Fernández de Soto, prestigious Cordoba-based speech-language pathologist. They all contributed key details on one of the most important scientific gatherings in Latin America..

"GICCA has been growing in relevance on the world map. Today, it even boasts representatives from all over Europe, and this is great news because what is happening in Latin America is not the same as in other continents, and I don't just mean in the technological aspects which eventually reach here but in resources which, added to creativity can bring great things," says speech-language expert Gladys Fernández de Soto, head of the Speech-Language department at the Neonatal Maternity Hospital in Cordoba, and manager of the Pre and Post CI process for the Provincial Cochlear Implant Programme.

This professional was invited to GICCA to take part in a debate on early detection, specifically "to talk about what should happen to the newborn patient after screening. In Cordoba we have the most highly evolved programme in Argentina: we have been working on it since 1998 - long before the national law was passed in 2011 - and our experience was based on trial and error. There are foundations for debating other techniques besides otoemissions. This, in part, is what I will be at the congress to show," points out Fernández de Soto.

Working with parents and having the right interdisciplinary team involved is paramount in the correct management of hypoacusis, above all in high-risk babies (less than 1.5kg at birth). The expert explains: "From the application of universal screening, something which is very positive in all its aspects, follow-up is vital, but many speech-language pathologists are not trained correctly and can take too long in detecting hearing loss in this type of patient. We go beyond screening to inform parents at all stages of development, offering information so they can check if tots don't meet norms in growth stages and, besides this, we carry out two studies on babies (oto and specific evoked potentials) to find out if there is any retrocochlear pathology which the otoemission test has missed. If this is not all clear, an ENT examination is undertaken to reach a diagnosis. Involving the parents guarantees fifty percent of the success, and we have confirmed this in Cordoba, where the programme is implanted at network level," she affirms.

Interact in order to improve

"When we began in Cuba, these gatherings did not have the weight and category of today's congress," says Carlos Curet, otorhinolaryngologist, university professor, and member of the Cordoba Academy of Medical Sciences. "I took part alongside Leopoldo Cordero in organisations in Argentina and CI took up just one session or one day. That is when we saw that Spanish-speaking professionals, parents, and patients had plenty of doubts about this type of treatment and that there were no forums in Spanish. Our language was a great intercontinental link, and now Spain has joined us so we are connected with implantologists with whom we can share work and visits. Our aim was to build a congress that represents us and science related to CI: biological and hearing research, diagnostic methods, new tendencies, and also surgical complications because you do not just show and talk about successes but also our difficulties so we can find solutions brought to us by others," he explains.

Very much in agreement is Leopoldo Cordero, head of one of the key CI centres of both the region and Argentina as a whole: "Developments in CI and hearing devices from the start of these meetings over a decade ago are strongly linked. The use of hearing aids prior to implantable devices, including the ipsi-and-contralateral use of implants and hearing aids have the same aim of improving auditory information for the hearing impaired person as the harmonious technological evolution of all these elements. The results, therefore, bring benefits for the hypocusic patient while a strong business association has been established between key players, such as between firms in implants and those in hearing aids, leading to new outfits being formed which share technologies, thus boosting profits for both."

The spirit of this meeting is about integration, reflecting the essential variety of the different countries that make up Latin America, only some of which have state and health insurance cover for complex treatment such as CI. Argentina does provide this subsidy. "It is precisely due to this diversity that we should share experiences in not such favorable surroundings. Europeans are surprised, first by the number of births we have on the continent and then by the way hearing professionals work here to find creative solutions to the difficulties," says speech-language expert Fernández de Soto.

Meanwhile, Curet underlines that "GICCA is a very important platform for many groups carrying out their activities in state, university, or private hospitals, so there is heterogeneity and very different realities. I work at the university and in the private sphere; the Cubans work only in the public sector; private activity is very big in Colombia; and Brazil has developed CI greatly in the public arena. In fact, we are gathering at the congress in Sao Paulo this year using the infrastructure of the local university, where they do all their practical training." The country represented by these three professionals has an outstanding profile in the global cochlear implant panorama. In the words of Leopoldo Cordero: "For many years, Argentina has occupied a special place on the worldwide hearing stage, being pioneers in early diagnosis of hypoacusis, oral rehabilitation, and the use of hearing aids, and with the backing of a disability law which assures equipment and rehabilitation for patients." At this congress, he adds, "professionals come from all over the audiology world with different presentations and research work, and their presence is a boost for the professionals of this region. We can expect very intense participation at both scientific and networking levels because this event represents the present and the future of Latin America in hearing implants and devices."

Find this article and much more audiology-related contents in Spanish on Audioenportada, the information website for audiology professionals and hearing aids dispensers of the Spanish-speaking world.

Clara Fernàndez Escudero, Audio Infos Latin America

Photos:Leopoldo Cordero, member of the GICCA founding committee