Deafness is the hidden disability of childhood, and leads to poor educational and employment prospects. There is little published information on deafness in Pakistan. Profound hearing impairment is more prevalent in countries where consanguineous marriages are common, such as Pakistan. This study aimed to assess causes of childhood deafness and association with parental consanguinity, within deaf and hearing children in the Peshawar district of Pukhtoonkhwa Province, Pakistan.
One hundred and forty deaf children were identified from two schools for deaf children within the Peshawar district. These children were assessed via audiology, otoscopic examination, case note review and parental history, in order to attempt to ascertain the cause of their deafness. Two hundred and twenty-one attendees at a local immunisation clinic (taken as representative of the local childhood population) were also screened for hearing impairment. Parents of both groups of children were assessed by interview and questionnaire in order to ascertain the mother and father's family relationship (i.e. whether cousins or unrelated).
Of the 140 deaf school pupils, 92.1 per cent were profoundly hearing impaired and 7.9 per cent were severely hearing impaired. All these children had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. A possible cause of deafness was identified in only six of these children. Parental consanguinity (i.e. first or second cousins) was established for 86.4 per cent of deaf school pupils and 59.7 per cent of immunisation clinic attendees. None of the control children were identified as having a hearing problem.
The prevalence of parental consanguinity was significantly higher in deaf children compared with non-hearing impaired children. However, the study also confirmed a high rate of consanguinity within the general Peshawar community. In this setting, prevention of consanguineous unions is the only means of reducing levels of congenital hearing impairment. The current levels of hearing disability represent both a prominent public health problem and an important, potentially preventable childhood disability.