Poulsbo resident Paige Stringer received the 2019 World of Children Health Award and a $100,000 grant for her work as the founder and executive director of the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss.
Despite being born with profound hearing loss, Stringer has lived a relatively normal life. She attended mainstream school, earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Washington and held marketing positions at various companies including Amazon.
Stringer found her true calling while on a volunteer trip to Vietnam where she taught children at a school for the deaf, to speak English.
“I was astounded at the low level of community awareness, limited resources and scant professional expertise to help babies and young children with hearing loss,” Stringer said. “ It made me very grateful for the services I received in England and the U.S. when I was young, which helped me overcome the effects of hearing loss and learn to listen and speak.”
Hearing loss in infants and young children is one of the most common birth anomalies globally. In the U.S. it affects three in every thousand newborns, and the rate may be even higher in developing countries. Research conducted by the World Health Organization shows that the most intensive period of cognitive, speech and language development happens between infancy and age six. The more time that passes without addressing hearing loss, the more permanent its effects become as the brain moves on to other areas of development.
In 2009, Stringer established the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss ( GFCHL) to help children with hearing difficulties access locally based early identification and intervention expertise, and services during their most critical years of cognitive development. The organization provides training programs for medical professionals, therapists, teachers, and families in pediatric audiology and works to raise awareness for pediatric hearing loss and how its can be addressed. The foundation also provides hearing technology and helps to implement services and support systems that young children with hearing loss need to learn to listen and speak and reach their full potential in hearing communities.
The GFCHL is one of a few organizations in the world that offers an approach to care that intersects early childhood education with health care, specifically for those children with hearing loss in developing countries. Working with a team of experts in audiology, speech-language pathology and auditory-verbal practitioners and collaborating with in-country partners, the GFCHL is able to identify gaps in health care systems and establish training and development programs customized to address that country’s needs.
“Their systemic approach has changed the future for thousands of children for years to come,” reads a release from World of Children.
Over the course of the last decade programs implemented by the GFCHL in Vietnam and Mongolia have directly benefited over 30,000 children.
Stringer is currently in Mongolia where she has formed a partnership and began an ongoing project with the Mongolian National Center for Maternal and Child Health in 2016. The GFCHL funded the implementation of screening equipment for every birthing hospital in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, as well as in surrounding districts, which helped the Mongolian people integrate hearing screening into their protocol care of newborns. In 2018, over 33,000 newborns were screened for hearing loss.
“This project aims to achieve a 2014 Ministry of Health mandate to establish a national newborn hearing screening program in Mongolia and also to develop professional expertise in audiology and auditory-verbal therapy to support listening and spoken language in young children with hearing loss,” Stringer said. “Early identification of hearing loss and appropriate early intervention treatments, in babies and young children who are deaf or hard of hearing can overcome the effects of hearing loss on their development. They can learn to listen and talk, attend mainstream schools, and reach their full potential.”
The GFCHL has also been training Mongolian professionals in the capital since 2017 to build local expertise in pediatric audiology and auditory-verbal practice.
“We are now working to expand our project on a national level to reach an additional 45,000 babies born in the 21 provinces outside of the capital,” explained Stringer.
Stringer will be in Mongolia for the next several months working on the development of the GFCHL in the region as well as collecting data for her research as part of her thesis for her Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Washington.
Stringer has led the GFCHL’s work in other countries such as Vietnam in 2010 and Ecuador in 2017.