To mark World Hearing Day, the World Health Organization is calling for action to stem the epidemic of hearing loss, which currently affects 1.5 billion people globally. A roadmap for action is contained in WHO’s first World Report on Hearing.
WHO officials warn nearly 2.5 billion people will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050 if nothing is done to prevent or mitigate this condition. Nearly a third, they say will require hearing rehabilitation.
The personal and economic cost of this condition is huge. Many people who are deaf or suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss are stigmatized and spend much of their lives in isolation. Additionally, WHO reports unaddressed hearing loss costs the global economy nearly $1 trillion each year.
WHO technical officer on ear and hearing care Shelly Chadha says much of this hearing loss can be prevented.
“Many of the causes, for example, hearing loss which is caused by listening to loud music over one’s headphones and earphones — this can be prevented. As can be hearing loss, which is caused by loud noise in one’s workplace. Other common causes of hearing loss — ear infections, rubella, meningitis — these are causes which can be prevented by established public health strategies.”
Chadha notes almost 60% of hearing loss in children is due to avoidable causes such as ear infections and birth complications. She says solutions are available. She says hearing technologies, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants accompanied by rehabilitative therapy can mitigate the adverse effects of hearing loss.
“Millions of people across the world are already benefiting from these interventions. But they are a bit of an exclusive group because what we estimate is that across the world only about 17 percent of people who need these services actually are able to benefit from them," she said.
People in low-income countries are the most underserved because they lack the specialists, audiologists and speech therapists who can provide the care required.
WHO says this gap can be closed by integrating ear and hearing care into national primary health care services.
WHO calls this a great investment, noting for every dollar invested in hearing loss care, governments can expect a return of nearly $16.