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Imagine a world of silence. A world in which relationships are strained, work gets harder and speaking by phone becomes impossible. For many people, this is reality, and whether hearing loss is something they’re born with or develops over time, it can severely impact all areas of life. But there is a solution – a small electronic device can take over the job of damaged parts of the inner ear, restoring the ability to hear spoken language. It’s proven and effective, but only a fraction of those needing a cochlear implant each year in New Zealand will receive one. Local finance and investment company Mutual Credit Finance (MCF) wants to help change this by putting its support behind the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme (SCIP) as its inaugural Foundation Partner for the next five years.

Serving a mostly Canterbury-based clientele since 1956, MCF already had deep roots in the local community and had been involved in charitable activities, but in 2017, says Chief Executive Clint Barry, they decided to forge a partnership, ‘giving back to the community by making a long-term commitment to an organisation with aligned values’.

With no fixed ideas on who to support, MCF began searching for an organisation to partner with. SCIP was one of several options put forward and it was Clint’s personal experience that helped seal the decision.

Clint had witnessed first-hand the impact of the programme. In primary school, his son had been close friends with the recipient of a cochlear implant. ‘Just one of the boys,’ as Clint puts it, when wearing the device, it was clear just how much the child would have missed out on without it. For a profoundly deaf child, the implant was a crucial factor in being accepted amongst his peers and being able to participate in a classroom setting.

The importance of SCIP resonated personally, and the board came to recognise synergies between MCF and SCIP – both small, local organisations focused on establishing long-term relationships with their clients to optimise outcomes for individuals, their families and communities. In December 2018 MCF committed to supporting SCIP with $20,000 annually for five years.

For SCIP, the support couldn’t have come at a better time. Public funding meets the demand for children requiring implants but falls short for adults. The programme receives referrals for 100 adults per year, all meeting the criteria, but most will have no access to funding. Despite being a mainstream therapy for 20 years, cochlear implants and their benefits have remained little-known, making it difficult to attract additional public funding or benefactors.

Hearing sometimes degenerates with age, but this can usually be managed with a hearing aid. For those with profound hearing loss, however, no amount of amplification will restore sound. For them, hearing loss can mean being unable to work and becoming isolated from the community. ‘A lot of the people,’ says Neil Heslop, General Manager of SCIP, ‘present with clinical anxiety or depression.’

An implant, by taking over the function of damaged parts of the inner ear, stimulating hearing nerves with electronic signals that are interpreted by the brain as speech, offers a solution that recipients describe as ‘the difference between night and day’. Restoring access to work and social networks, a cochlear implant is nothing short of life changing.

For 40 adults per year, an implant will be publicly funded. Others will take a second mortgage or rely on a personal loan, family help or retirement savings – it’s not covered by health insurance. But those without financial options (about 200 people at present) are in limbo, their circumstances deteriorating yet with little chance of funding.

It’s hoped that the support of MCF as the SCIP inaugural Foundation Partner will help to turn this around, increasing awareness to boost funding and ultimately enabling greater access to implants – transforming lives in the process.

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WORDS Michelle Berridge