The World Health Organisation (WHO) says no fewer than 2.5 billion people worldwide or one in four people, will be living with some degrees of hearing loss by 2050.
WHO, in its first World Report on Hearing released on Tuesday, said that at least 700 million of these people would require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services, unless action was taken.
The report launched ahead of the World Hearing Day on March 3, 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.
The health agency said that investment in ear and hearing care had shown to be cost-effective, noting that WHO calculated that governments could expect a return of nearly 16 dollars for every one dollar invested.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, said: “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 toward universal health coverage.
“The main findings of the report revealed that lack of accurate information and stigmatising attitudes to ear diseases and hearing loss, often limit people from accessing care for these conditions.
“Even, among healthcare 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,” Ghebreyesus, said.
The report noted that in most countries, ear and hearing care was not integrated into the national health systems, and accessing care services was 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 healthcare system capacity is in human resources.
“Among low-income countries, about 78 per cent have fewer than one, ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist per million population; 93 per cent have fewer than one audiologist per million.
“Only 17 per cent have one or more speech therapist per million; and 50 per cent have one or more teacher for the deaf per million,” the report stated.
It added that these gaps could be bridged, through integration of ear and hearing care into primary healthcare, through strategies such as task sharing and training, outlined in the report.
“Even, in countries with relatively high proportions of ear and hearing care professionals, there is unequal distribution of specialists.
“This not only poses challenges for people in need of care, but also places unreasonable demands on the cadres providing these services,” it said.
The report disclosed that almost 60 per cent of hearing loss in children could be prevented through measures such as immunisation for prevention of rubella and meningitis, improved maternal and neonatal care.
Others are screening for, and early management of, otitis media – inflammatory diseases of the middle ear.
It said that noise control, safe listening and surveillance of ototoxic medicines together with good ear hygiene could help maintain good hearing and reduce the potential for hearing loss in adults.
The report also noted that identification was the first step in addressing hearing loss and related ear diseases, adding clinical screening at strategic points in life, ensures that any loss of hearing and ear diseases could be identified early.
“Once diagnosed, early intervention is key. Medical and surgical treatment can cure most ear diseases, potentially reversing the associated hearing loss.
“However, where hearing loss is irreversible, rehabilitation can ensure that those affected avoid the adverse consequences of hearing loss,” the report said.
It said that hearing technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants accompanied by appropriate support services and rehabilitative therapy, are effective and cost-effective and could benefit children and adults.
The report noted that the use of sign language and other means of sensory substitution such as speech reading are important options for many deaf people.
It said hearing assistive technology and services, such as captioning and sign language interpretation could further improve access to communication and education, for those with hearing loss. (NAN)