More people than ever have hearing loss that can be improved or treated, UN reports

A child learning sign language in Madagascar in preparation for admittance to school. Photo: UNICEF/Dia Styvanley

27 February 2013 – More than 360 million people have disabling hearing loss, according to new global estimates released by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), which adds that production of hearing aids is not keeping up with the urgent demand.

“Current production of hearing aids meets less than 10 per cent of global need,” WHO’s Shelly Chadha of the Department of Prevention of Blindness and Deafness said in a news release issued ahead of International Ear Care Day. Marked annually on 3 March, the Day aims to raise awareness and promotes community-based activities for ear and hearing health.

As the population ages globally, more people than ever before face hearing loss. One in every three people over the age of 65 – a total of 165 million people worldwide – lives with hearing loss, according to WHO.

Another 32 million people affected by hearing loss are children under the age of 15. Many of whom live in low- and middle-income countries – particularly in South Asia, Asia and the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa – where untreated ear infections lead to hearing loss.

“About half of all cases of hearing loss are easily preventable while many can be treated through early diagnosis and suitable interventions such as surgically-implanted hearing devices,” Ms. Chadha said.

WHO encourages countries to develop programmes for preventing hearing loss within their primary health care systems, including vaccinating children against measles, meningitis, mumps and rubella; screening and treating syphilis in pregnant women; and early assessment and management of hearing loss in babies.

According to the figures released today, fewer than one out of 40 people who need a hearing aid in developing countries have one. WHO said it is exploring technology transfer as a way to promote access to hearing aids in those places.

The agency also cited sign language training and social support as beneficial for people with disabling hearing loss.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN-backed vaccination drive seeks to protect West Africans from seasonal meningitis

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews