Recently, during World Health Day 2019, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. T. A. Ghebreyesus stated, “Although we have made enormous progress in recent years against some of the world’s leading causes of death and disease, we still have a lot of work to do to realize that vision. Today, half the world’s population cannot access essential health services.” One of those vital health services is access to hearing aids and hearing loss prevention.
Globally, it is estimated that 466 million people are living with disabling hearing loss. Approximately 34 million are children and a third of persons over 65 are also affected. The greatest widespread occurrence for these numbers is in South Asia, Asia Pacific, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In countries with high income populations the numbers are much lower, so impoverished populations are most afflicted.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Statistics show that one population most affected by disabling hearing loss in developing countries is children. There are many congenital causes that predispose them to both hearing loss and deafness: measles, malaria, maternal diabetes, preeclampsia (high blood pressure while pregnant), and others. Lack of access to pre- and postnatal care, due to resources or, more specifically in some cases, hearing care education, can prevent mothers from receiving vaccinations and newborns from receiving antibiotics.
Another contributing aspect of hearing loss is noise pollution. This can be a compounding factor if a child is impaired with a congenital hearing impairment. In developing countries, the noise in a public-sector hospital is disproportionately higher than a private-sector hospital or its first-world counterpart. Science Daily reports that noise pollution in hospital can “impact a patient’s ability to rest, heal and recover” and has been linked to “hospitalization-induced stress, increased pain sensitivity, high blood pressure and poor mental health.” One must then also consider environmental noise to get a more accurate picture of the conditions out of line with hearing health in developing countries.
Hearing-impaired and deaf children often struggle with slowed language, cognition, and speech development, putting them at a great disadvantage for success in school. Hearing loss and ear diseases – such as otitis midi – have a significant adverse effect on the academic performance of children. (WHO) The fact that a child in South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa is twice as likely to have disabling hearing loss is significant. Around 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. These children grow into adults that have trouble securing jobs, develop social anxiety, and feel isolation from their community. These outcomes perpetuate cycles of poverty and make it just as hard, if not more so, for generations to follow.
As the problem of disabling hearing loss steadily gains attention worldwide, health agencies like the WHO are working to ensure education and resources are made available when and where they are needed most. Two of their stated roles are to: develop suitable programs for primary ear and hearing care, integrated into the primary health care system of the country; and raise awareness about hearing loss as well as the opportunities for prevention, identification and management.
Globally, about 72 million people in developing countries are in need of hearing aids. However, less than 10% of that need is met due to poverty and access to affordable services. Meeting those needs seems like an insurmountable task when combined with a lack of trained technicians to address fitting, maintenance, and battery provision. Hearing aids that are properly fitted can improve communication in upwards of 90% of people with hearing loss, but less than 1 in 40 people who need a hearing aid have one.
In recent years, the WHO partnered with World Wide Hearing Care for Developing Countries (WWHearing) to provide ongoing screening campaigns in underserved communities. They have launched various campaigns in several countries ranging from setting a goal to screen tens of thousands over a period of time, setting up hearing clinics, and providing education so that local health techs can provide services to their own communities.
The WHO is ever committed to calling upon Member States to integrate strategies for ear and hearing care into the framework of their primary care systems, under the umbrella of universal health coverage. The organization is also one of a growing number that continues to advocate for hearing loss education and prevention in developing countries while simultaneously raising awareness on safe listening practice to reduce the risk of recreational noise-induced hearing loss and building partnerships to develop strong hearing care initiatives for affordable hearing aids, cochlear implants and related services.
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There’s no reason to live with untreated hearing loss. If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing, or if you haven’t had a hearing test in a number of years, contact us today to schedule a hearing test.