Geneva, March 3: One in four of the world's population is bound to suffer from hearing problems by 2050, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning in its report on Tuesday. According to the WHO's first World Report on Hearing, at least 700 million people in the world will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken. c
The latest report by WHO outlines the scale of the problem and also offers solutions in the form of evidence-based interventions that all countries should be encouraged to integrate into their health systems as part of their journey towards universal health coverage. The report had been launched ahead of World Hearing Day on March 3.
It underlines the need to rapidly step up efforts to prevent and address hearing loss by investing and expanding access to ear and hearing care services. Investment in ear and hearing care has been shown to be cost-effective: WHO calculates that governments can expect a return of nearly US$ 16 for every US$ 1 invested. WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Lauds India, PM Narendra Modi for Supporting COVID-19 Vaccine Equity.
Main findings of WHO's World Report on Hearing:
Lack of accurate information and stigmatizing attitudes to ear diseases and hearing loss often limit people from accessing care for these conditions.
Even among health-care providers, there’s often a shortage of knowledge about prevention, early identification, and management of hearing loss and ear diseases, hampering their ability to provide the care required.
In most countries, ear and hearing care are still not integrated into national health systems, and accessing care services is challenging for those with ear diseases and hearing loss.
Moreover, access to ear and hearing care is poorly measured and documented, and relevant indicators are lacking in the health information system.
But the most glaring gap in health system capacity is in human resources. Among low-income countries, about 78% have fewer than one ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist per million population; 93% have fewer than one audiologist per million; only 17% have one or more speech therapist per million; and 50% have one or more teacher for the deaf per million.
This gap can be closed through integration of ear and hearing care into primary health care through strategies such as task sharing and training, outlined in the report.
Main Causes of Hearing Loss
In children, almost 60% of hearing loss can be prevented through measures such as immunization for prevention of rubella and meningitis, improved maternal and neonatal care, and screening for, and early management of, otitis media - inflammatory diseases of the middle ear. In adults, noise control, safe listening and surveillance of ototoxic medicines together with good ear hygiene can help maintain good hearing and reduce the potential for hearing loss.
Identification is the first step in addressing hearing loss and related ear diseases. Clinical screening at strategic points in life ensure that any loss of hearing and ear diseases can be identified as early as possible.
Recent technological advances, including accurate and easy-to-use tools, can identify ear disease and hearing loss at any age, in clinical or community settings, and with limited training and resources. Screening can even take place in challenging situations such as those encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic and those living in underserved and remote areas of the world.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said that the hearing capability that humans possess, is precious and its loss can have a devastating impact on people’s ability to communicate. "Our ability to hear is precious. Untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on people’s ability to communicate, to study, and to earn a living. It can also impact on people’s mental health and their ability to sustain relationships," Ghebreyesus said.