WINNIPEG — All Manitoba newborns will one day be required to have their hearing tested under a private member’s bill that all political parties have agreed to pass by Sept. 17.
The new measure is expected to take effect in 2016, once regulations are written and the necessary equipment is in place across the province.
Manitoba is one of the last jurisdictions in North America to require universal screening of newborns for hearing deficits. Catching hearing problems early can prevent delays in speech and language development, advocates say.
“If you don’t identify it soon, it causes a number of developmental challenges,” said Progressive Conservative MLA Leanne Rowat, who sponsored Bill 208 (the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Act). The bill was seconded by Liberal leader and pediatrician Dr. Jon Gerrard.
Both had championed such legislation for years, but were unable to convince the governing NDP to adopt it. However, the Opposition made passage of the bill one of the conditions of a deal last Thursday to bring about an end to a marathon session of the legislature this month.
“Children are the big winners out of this agreement,” Gerrard said on Wednesday.
Testing is now carried out for newborns considered to be at risk of hearing impairment — for example, those whose parents have hearing problems. However, it’s believed that such selected screening only catches one of every two babies with hearing issues.
Testing newborns is expected to cost $2 million annually, but advocates say those costs — and more — can easily be recovered through a reduction in the number of children with speech and development problems.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 5, 2013