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From Darwin to Dili

An audiologist adjusts a hearing aid for a patient in Timor Leste.

Timor Leste, the newest and one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, is an hour flight north west of Darwin, Australia. Since 2011, staff from Arafura Audiology Clinic have been traveling to Timor Leste on a semi-regular basis to provide hearing tests, fit donated hearing aids and provide support for local staff. Timor Leste has a significant amount of untreated ear and hearing problems due to limited access to healthcare services, and lifestyle factors associated with widespread poverty and malnutrition. The goal is to eventually have local staff trained to provide hearing tests, and establish a consistent source of funding for this service.

In mid-December 2017, Arafura Audiology organised for a team of six to head to Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, for five days to continue their work with hearing and ear issues. This was the largest group to go over to Timor Leste and, for the first time, included a speech pathologist, as well as audiologists and support staff. This was because previous trips to Timor Leste had identified people with normal hearing who were nonverbal and children with newly fitted hearing aids who had speech and language delays as a result of their hearing loss. From a speech-pathology perspective, this trip was a fact-finding mission to determine the role a speech pathologist could play in future trips and how to support the services provided by Timor’s one and only speech pathologist, Alotu.

Previous trips to Timor Leste had identified people with normal hearing who were nonverbal and children with newly fitted hearing aids who had speech and language delays as a result of their hearing loss.

The team set up a temporary clinic and therapy space at the Bairo Pite clinic, an NGO primary health clinic that provides free healthcare for around 300 people a day in central Dili. It was a busy trip once word spread via Facebook and through word of mouth that free hearing tests, hearing aids and speech-pathology sessions were being provided.

The team saw 70 people for hearing tests and 25 hearing aids were fitted. When potential speech-pathology clients were identified by the audiologists, I searched for a quiet room and saw them with the assistance of a local translator. As with any work in a developing country, case histories are often sketchy, and questions or information can get lost in translation. Several of the children I saw potentially had a history of meningitis, and most of the session was spent talking with parents about strategies to support functional communication and encourage language development. On our final day in Dili we met with Alotu to discuss how we can best work together for future trips.

Another trip is in the planning stages for mid-2018 to offer more assessments and hearing aid fittings, but to also follow up clients we saw on this trip. We all have ideas as to how we can improve our services and what we can do to make everything run more smoothly.


About the article’s author: Meg Redway is a speech pathologist based in Darwin, Australia.