UN health agency calls on countries to invest in prevention and care for hearing loss

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on Governments to invest in hearing care. Photo: The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)/A. Smith

28 February 2014 – The United Nations health agency is calling on Governments to invest in hearing care, as a new survey finds that many countries lack the capacity to prevent and care for hearing loss, which affects 360 million people worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the highest prevalence of disabling hearing loss is found in the Asia Pacific, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. About half of all cases of hearing loss worldwide are easily prevented or treated.

However, a report published by the agency on the occasion of International Ear Care Day, observed on 3 March, says that just 32 of the 76 countries who responded to a WHO survey have developed plans and programmes to prevent and control ear diseases and hearing loss.

Many countries lack trained health personnel, educational facilities, data and national plans to address the needs of those living with ear and hearing problems. The gap between need and services is greatest in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The results of this survey are a clear call to action for governments and partners to invest in hearing care, especially at community and primary level,” said Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability.

“The programmes must aim to benefit all, including disadvantaged parts of the population who are least able to access hearing services,” added Dr. Krug.

WHO notes that a leading cause for hearing loss in younger ages, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, is untreated ear infections, which often presents with discharge from the ear. Vaccine-preventable infectious diseases such as rubella, meningitis, measles, or mumps can also lead to hearing loss.

Good ear care practices, such as reducing exposure to noise and avoiding insertion of objects into the ears, can prevent many from developing ear and hearing problems. A large percentage of people living with hearing loss can benefit from early identification and appropriate treatment.

“Ear and hearing problems and the use of hearing aids are often associated with myths and misconceptions,” said Shelly Chadha of the WHO unit for the Prevention of Blindness and Deafness.

“National programmes should therefore not only focus on prevention and service provision but also on awareness-raising,” Dr. Chadha noted.

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