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History Made: South African Doctor Cures Deafness With Inner Ear Transplant

Prof Tshifularo at work

It’s history in the making, never mind that BBC, CNN and their counterparts won’t talk about it.

Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, head of the department of ear, nose and throat studies (ENT or ororhinolaryngology) at the University of Pretoria, has given the world a gift. Or perhaps he himself is the gift.

Prof Tshifularo, the first black ENT specialist in South Africa and one of the best in the country, has kept his attention on hearing loss over the last decade, and came up with the idea of using 3D technology to recreate the little bones inside the inner ear and replace any of them that may be damaged.

Using an endoscope, he and his team from University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health set to work, to replace the little bones of the middle ear with 3D-made replicas. Their patient was a 35-year-old man suffering hearing loss due to a car accident that caused damage inside his ear.  

It worked; after a 90-minute surgery at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital some weeks ago. It could be the answer to conductive hearing loss, and thankfully, this hearing restoration procedure pioneered by Prof Mashudu Tshifularo is expected to be available to patients of all ages, from infants to the aged.

He explained that his method focuses on replacing only damaged ossicles in the inner ear that are not functioning properly, and is a lot less risky than using prostheses. This method uses titanium, a biocompatible metal that can stay in place for years without causing any problems to the body.  

When asked how soon patients would receive their hearing after the surgical procedure, he said: “The patients will get their hearing back immediately but since they will be wrapped in bandages, only after two weeks, when they are removed, will they be able to tell a difference.”

“Immediately”? You read that right. South Africa is on the verge of making damaged parts of the middle ear and surgically replacing them to restore a patient’s hearing almost immediately. The bandages will be off in just two weeks and the patient will be okay.

South Africa’s health minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi has assured that they will do everything to support Prof Tshifularo’s work. He has also urged businesses and sponsors to get on board and offer support.

Unfortunately, somehow, this feat reminds me of how many ambulances and hospital beds are available for the public in Ghana. But we’ll leave that issue for another time. For now, kudos to South Africa. Great job done!


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