Mexico: Exponential advances in cochlear implants

Over the last 20 years in Mexico there has been a considerable development of the use of cochlear implants, with increasingly more patients claiming the technology has changed their lives.

Cochlear implants are currently the only prosthetic technology capable of restoring some of the sense organs. It consists basically of an auditory prosthesis which substitutes for the functions of the ear and sends stimuli to the auditory nerve in order to achieve a recovery of hearing.The year 1986 saw the first cochlear implant to be implanted in Mexico; by 1998, however, there were only 55 patients in the country with implants. The figures have grown exponentially since then: 280 patients in 2001; more than 500 in 2004, and in 2014 the number of patients with hearing recovered through implants has reached 2,010.

The Mexican picture

Mexico is a country with a big market of candidates for cochlear implants. In general, the figures indicate that 10 million people have some kind of disability, which in terms of hearing represents 0.62% of the population. In addition, some 2,400 to 4,000 babies are born with congenital deafness every year. The figures for cochlear implants show that since 1990 30,000 births have been registered and, of these, only 3% received rehabilitation through cochlear implants, while 10% have had special education. “Some 16,000 people are estimated to have received a cochlear implant in Latin America, which gives rise to the consideration that less than 15% of those requiring this technology have actually received it,” points out Pedro Berruecos, former President of the International Society of Audiology, former President of the Pan American Society of Audiology, and a board member of the National Academy.

Market penetration

Four cochlear implant firms of worldwide prestige coexist in the Mexican marketplace. The first to arrive, in 1985, was Cochlear Corporation (Australian), which has chalked up the highest number of implants given in Mexico, around 1,500. Years later, the US firm AB came into the Mexican marketplace, and has 300 implants; the Austrian MED-EL has 200 implants; and, the last to join the market, the French company Neurelec, has 10 implants to date. Finally, Neurelec has a ceramic implant (Digisonic) with one electrode type and a BTE Saphyr sound processor.


Unfortunately, in the Mexican economy a cochlear implant is unaffordable technology for most families, and no private medical insurance includes it in its cover. “The benefits an implant brings are almost miraculous: in total hearing loss cases it allows almost 100% recovery of hearing; in children born deaf, it means they can integrate in the world of sound and develop the oral language needed to take part in society. A person with an implant undergoes a radical change of personal history and quality of life. It is worth remembering that the ear is, so far, the only sense organ that has been successfully replaced,” concludes Octavio Del Moral, specialist in clinical application at Cochlear-Mexico.

With regard to social security cover, Mexico’s Popular Insurance guarantees support from the government for 50% of the total cost of a cochlear implant for the newborn. The programme’s protocol establishes that the government will rehabilitate children up to three-years-old who suffer from profound deafness. “In Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba, implant programmes are financed officially while in Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and Uruguay designate stated funds are added to private funding. Awareness of these difficulties should bring about greater support for cochlear implant programmes in Mexico,” states Pedro Berruecos. The approximate cost of an implant is US$22,000 not including medical fees, surgery, and rehab therapy. Independently of the high costs of procedures, Mexico has just 20 specialists trained to carry out these implants. “The development of cochlear implant programmes in Latin America has moved forward exponentially, but the countries with the greatest number of implants are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, possibly in that order,” Pedro Berruecos concludes.

Kimberly Armengol Jensen

Translation: P.W., Photo: Dan Talson - Fotolia