Huskers Maintain Audiology Service In Nicaragua Despite Travel Restrictions | Nebraska today
It has been over two and a half years since Stacie Ray or Hannah Ditmars visited Nicaragua, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing the project they started in 2015 to provide sustainable hearing care to a country of people who desperately need it. such services.
Thanks to a partnership with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua, León (A YEAR-León), members of the Husker Audiology program ensured the progress of their work despite their physical absence.
“We could not be happier to be at the point where we are within this strong collaborative relationship with A YEAR-León, one of the oldest and most reputable universities in Central America, ”said Ray.
Ray, a professor of practice in special education and communication disorders, and Ditmars, an assistant professor of practice, first visited Nicaragua in 2015 to conduct a hearing care service needs assessment. What they found was a country with over 6 million people and only one known audiologist. They immediately began to create a strategic plan to create a sustainable hearing care program.
When the project began, one of its goals was to provide Husker audiology students with the opportunity to see a different population and help provide hearing care to that population. This experiential learning allows students to think more holistically about their impact as future audiologists, which is the first goal of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s global Forward Together strategy.
“We are able to bring our students in so that they can see that there are no walls around their knowledge and skills, and how far that knowledge and skills can reach,” Ray said. “I think it’s so important to show our students that it’s not just about the work you get and the work you are going to do within these walls. You have so much to offer in the field that there really is no barrier to how you can use your knowledge and experiences to help others.
In 2016 and 2017, they led groups of Husker audiology students through study abroad experiences to provide hearing screenings and fit hearing aids. Ray and Ditmars also visited in 2017 and 2018, and Ray returned in March 2019, marking the last time a member of the Nebraska audiology program set foot in Nicaragua.
During these trips, Ray and Ditmars helped train audiology technicians to A YEAR-León who can provide follow-up care in their absence. Since their last visit, they have also continued to send supplies and equipment.
“I think our goal was also to provide sustainable healthcare, which also means capacity building and training, besides seeing patients, because we didn’t want patients to be fitted with hearing aids,” then leave and they are not followed. -up, ”Ditmars said.
During one of their first trips, Ray and Ditmars were introduced to Dr Marvin Gonzalez, professor at the Center for Health, Work and Environment Research at A YEAR-Leon. Dr Gonzalez had a medical background, had studied in London and had many connections with other Central American universities, the we and Britain, so he immediately became an important contact for Ray and Ditmars.
“He helped us think more broadly, and when we met him and discussed our vision, he accepted and understood,” Ray said. “The aspect of sustainability then really focused on the train the trainer model to use professionals who already have a medical degree, and train them with the hearing care skills they need to become proficient. at certain levels. “
In early 2020, Ray and Ditmars hosted Gonzalez for nearly six weeks as a visiting scholar. He returned to Nebraska in August 2021 and spoke to audiology students at Husker about the differences between accessibility to hearing health services and treatment in the we and Nicaragua. Following the discussion, the students programmed and tested nearly 50 hearing aids for Gonzalez to report to people in Nicaragua.
In total, the Nebraska Audiology Program sent 80 hearing aids, 300 ear tips, two audiometers, an otoacoustic emission unit, a hearing aid programmer, nearly 5,000 hearing aid batteries, and hearing aid supplies. repair and maintenance of hearing aids. Gonzalez and his colleague Juan Ruiz then installed the hearing aids shortly after arriving in Nicaragua.
Prior to these newer hearing aids, Ray and Ditmars had helped 576 people and fitted 343 hearing aids in Nicaragua since the start of the project. Now they look forward to coming back in person in early 2022, if possible, and taking the next step by signing a Memorandum of Understanding between Nebraska and A YEAR-Leon.
In addition to formalizing the partnership, exchange of ideas and training, the pending MoU will also streamline some of the logistics of the collaboration.
“When we have supplies and equipment that we need to enter Nicaragua, they have to be approved by the Ministry of Health, so if we have a formal memorandum of understanding, then A YEAR can be our partner in this process, ”said Ditmars.
The ongoing project also contributes to the second goal of the global Forward Together strategy – Partner for Impact – as it aims to close the gap in hearing care needs in Nicaragua. As the goal is to resume regular travel to Nicaragua, Ray and Ditmars know they can continue to provide services remotely through their thriving partnership with A YEAR-Leon.
“So far everyone has been very open to this collaboration,” said Ray. “A YEAR is a fantastic research and medicine site for this kind of patient. They did a fabulous job welcoming us and saying, “We’re ready; we need this program here.