On the account of World Hearing Day on March 3rd, the World Health Organisation launched a report that stated that nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide, or 1 out of 4 people, will suffer a certain degree of hearing loss by 2050. The report was launched to address the crucial need for advancement of ear and hearing care services to globally reduce hearing loss amongst individuals.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is the WHO Director-General remarked, "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."
“This new report outlines the scale of the problem, but also offers solutions in the form of evidence-based interventions that we encourage all countries to integrate into their health systems as part of their journey towards universal health coverage”, he added.
What did the WHO report say?
The report emphasized that there is a lack of concrete knowledge amongst common people and health care providers in relation to the early identification and management of hearing loss and ear diseases. Further, ear diseases are often stigmatized and as a consequence, there is not enough care and precautions in this arena.
WHO stated, “In most countries, ear and hearing care is still not integrated into national health systems and accessing care services is challenging for those with ear diseases and hearing loss.”
“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”, it further added.
What is the scenario in India?
As a sad state of affairs, every year over 27,000 children are born deaf in India. Hearing impairment is neglected and often is failed to be diagnosed in the early stage.
Dr. Kalyani Mandke, an audiologist, said “One major reason is the unavailability of newborn screening programs at birth and low awareness among parents. Such screening programs can help in early diagnosis, which in turn will lead to early treatment.”
It is witnessed that the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) screening, which is ideally made mandatory in developed countries, is not incorporated in the compulsory health screening procedures for newly born babies in India, except in the state of Kerala.
How can loss of hearing be prevented?
WHO asserts that in children almost 60% of hearing loss can be prevented through immunization processes for the prevention of rubella and meningitis, along with improved maternal and neonatal care. Further, the screening and early management of the middle ear can prevent the inflammatory disease of otitis media.
Noise control, safe listening and surveillance of ototoxic medicines combined with good ear hygiene practices can aid in maintaining good hearing and reduce the potential risk of deafness in adults.
However, when detected with any ear ailments, early intervention is the key. The ideal option for potentially reversing hearing loss is medical and surgical treatment, which is effective in most cases. In cases where the damage is permanent, rehabilitation options like hearing aids and cochlear implants, amalgamated with adequate appropriate rehabilitative therapy and support can reduce the trauma and consequential impact of hearing loss in children and adults alike. The report also conveys that utilizing sign language and speech reading techniques are crucial options for many deaf people, hence technological improvements must be made for the same to make these services more fluid and easily accessible.
Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, the Director of the WHO Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, said “To ensure that the benefit of these technological advances and solutions is equitably accessible to all, countries must adopt an integrated people-centered approach.”
“Integrating ear and hearing care interventions within national health plans and delivering these through strengthened health systems, as part of universal health coverage, is essential to meet the needs of those at risk of or living with hearing loss”, he further mentioned.