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Trailblazing Research in South Africa

The associations between HIV and hearing in children were studied in Cape Town. This is the first study of its kind to ever be conducted in South Africa.
The SDSU research team at Sea Point Beach in Cape Town (from left to right: Hannah Martin, Peter Torre, Alyssa Cook, Kristin Pitera and Lucia Kearney).
The SDSU research team at Sea Point Beach in Cape Town (from left to right: Hannah Martin, Peter Torre, Alyssa Cook, Kristin Pitera and Lucia Kearney).

Passports stamped and Afrikaans dictionaries in hand, San Diego State University speech, language and hearing science professor, Peter Torre and four SLHS students spent spring break working in Cape Town, South Africa.

From March 21 through April 8, Torre and the students led a pilot study to analyze whether HIV in children is associated with hearing loss.

This is the first study of its kind to be conducted in South Africa, and it is designed to produce accurate and representative data.

Torre has a personal interest in HIV and hearing; through his professional connections in the field, he secured a partnership with South Africa’s Tygerberg Hospital audiology clinic in Cape Town to conduct the research.

“Based on my previous research, I’m sort of the HIV and hearing science person of the world,” Torre said.

With a Ph.D. in hearing science and a master’s in epidemiology, Torre is has a unique skill set in the hearing science world. Usually, studies of this complexity would need two researchers; one to accurately design the hearing science portion of the study and one to interpret and utilize the epidemiology data. Torre will be taking on both of these roles.

The study

Torre and the team of students worked with a cohort of 60-70 children ranging from the ages of four to 14. There were three groups of children: children who are HIV-positive, children who have been exposed to HIV but are not infected, and children who are not infected and have never been exposed to HIV.

Each child underwent a series of tests to analyze their speech and language patterns, level of hearing and if, or how, HIV has caused a change in the actual structure of the inner ear.

Cultural differences

Torre and his team prepared for the various challenges this study could pose. Translators will be important throughout the trip because English is only the fourth most spoken language in South Africa.

Also, in South Africa being HIV-positive carries a negative stigma so they will be careful to only make necessary references to the condition with their research participants.

Aztecs selected for excellence

Four SDSU students were selected by Torre for this research endeavor based on their academic dedication and their interest in the subject matter. An SLHS graduate student and three SLHS undergraduate students will be taking part in the study.

“Working on this project with Torre is a very unique experience and hopefully our research will have a positive effect on children with HIV in the future,” said SLHS senior Lucia Kearney.

Only the beginning

Hearing loss is a domino effect. It effects a child’s education, social abilities and just their quality of life in general,” said Torre.

He explained his enthusiasm for this study because the specific cohort of children enables them to accurately compare children who are infected with HIV to those who are not in South Africa, instead of relying on a national database for comparisons.

Torre is excited for this study’s potential to solicit funding to return to South Africa in the future and conduct follow-up studies on the same cohort of children.

“This is step one of accomplishing a long-term collaborative study of HIV and hearing in kids in South Africa,” said Torre.

 

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