BBC TV report: Making cheap, rechargeable hearing aids in Brazil

This report featured on BBC Health Check, available in the UK on BBC iPlayer.

SÃO PAULO — Only around 10 percent of people around the world’s 640 million people with hearing loss have access to hearing aids, which can be prohibitively expensive.

For many, even if they get their hands on a hearing aid, the batteries powering them can be even more of an issue: not readily available or too expensive, and after a single use they have to be throw away.

But one Brazil-based company has come up with a cheaper and more sustainable solution – and is also putting its profits into stopping preventable hearing loss.

Solar Ear’s team of deaf technicians have invented both cheap hearing aids and, crucially, cheap rechargeable hearing aid batteries to go with them, including a solar-powered chargers that can be used with natural and artificial light.

Solar Ear. Photo by Ben Tavener/BBC

Solar Ear’s solar-powered hearing aid battery chargers. Photo by Ben Tavener/BBC.

However, not satisfied with just providing cheaper hearing aids, the São Paulo-based social company is ploughing its profits into training deaf people and preparing them for the workplace, building self-esteem and reducing social isolation, as well as a raft of educational programmes, including teaching on HIV in Africa.

Then next stage for the award-winning company is to develop smartphone apps that test hearing loss, provide information on preventing deafness (such as through incorrect breastfeeding, preventable infectious diseases and exposure to excessive noise), and even turning smartphones themselves into hearing aids.

(Production, writing and video editing by Ben Tavener. Filming by Nick Story.)

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