A silent revolution is on to help speechimpaired children.
The government is planning to put the high-cost Cochlear implant surgery within the reach of most citizens, with talk of experimental trials of an indigenous version estimated to cost as less as Rs one lakh.
The price of a Cochlear implant till recently was Rs 11 lakh per unit but crashed to Rs 6 lakh after the Centre invited competitive bids for its scheme supporting disabled persons with aids and appliances. The Centre has begun to support 500 children annually for Cochlear implants.
Defence R&D organisation, DRDO, recently made a presentation to Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India under social justice ministry (MSJ) on the implant it has developed.
While it is a much more affordable version of available cures for hearing-speech handicaps, it has been languishing without clinical trials for some time now. “We are committed to making Cochlear implants cheap and are looking at clinical trials for what the DRDO has developed,” joint secretary in-charge of disability in MSJ, Awanish Awasthi told TOI.
The main roadblock in clinical trials is the risk of failure at experiment stage.
Sources said the Centre may look at giving risk guarantees to the person who agrees to undergo the trial surgery.
“A surgery that is so expensive for a disability so common, bold steps are needed,” a senior official said.
Cochlear implant can be a magic cure for children who are deaf and, as a consequence, speechless. This operation can only be done on children of up to six years. The cost crashed from Rs 11 lakh, well out of the reach of common man, to Rs 4.70 lakh after the Centre gave bulk orders for its scheme.
With the surgery costing another Rs 60,000, the Centre has decided to give Rs 6 lakh per implant. It is virtually the market rate now.
It is hoped that the next bidding, with greater quantum of orders, would bring the cost down further.
An estimate shows that around 10,000 children need implants annually and only Tamil Nadu, Kerala, MP, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra provide it in small numbers. “Should we support all the kids? The cost would be a question,” an official said, quoting the discussion in the government. It has put the DRDO implant at the top of the government priority.
There is a rapid spread in the number of doctors doing the implants after the Centre empanelled 140 hospitals.
For policy planners, the objective is to make the implant cost low enough to enable people to do it on their own at market rates.