As a response to the success of newborn hearing screening programmes in other countries, the New Zealand Government announced in 2006 that it would fund a universal newborn hearing screening programme for all New Zealand children.
The national newborn hearing screening programme is now in place in all District Health Boards, and it is expected that around ten babies a month born with a significant hearing loss will be identified. The Programme is jointly led by the Ministries of Health and Education, to ensure those babies detected with a hearing loss receive support from the newborn period through to school entry.
Each year, it is estimated that between 135 and 170 babies are born in New Zealand with mild to profound permanent congenital hearing loss. This represents a birth incidence of approximately three babies with a hearing loss per 1000 births, which is within the range of international estimates.
The first six months of a baby’s life is a critical period for learning communication. Lack of exposure to language during this time can affect a child’s development, communication skills, educational and career achievements. The early detection of hearing loss, and the application of early interventions, has been demonstrated to significantly improve long-term language skills and cognitive ability.