First World Hearing Report
World Hearing Day 2021 marks the launch of the first-ever World Report on Hearing by the World Health Organisation.
Hearing Key Messages
- Good hearing and communication are important at all stages of life.
- Hearing loss (and related ear diseases) can be avoided through preventative actions such as: protection against loud sounds; good ear care practices and immunisation.
- Hearing loss (and related ear diseases) can be addressed when it is identified in a timely manner and appropriate care sought.
- People at risk of hearing loss should check their hearing regularly.
- People having hearing loss (or related ear diseases) should seek care from a health care provider.
The first ever World Report on Hearing confirms that hearing is a worsening health challenge.
Currently, more than 430 million people worldwide require management and rehabilitation services for their hearing, while more than one billion are at risk of developing hearing loss.
The report warns that by 2050, 2.5 billion people worldwide will be living with some degree of hearing loss, 700 million of whom will require rehabilitation services.
“The number of people with hearing loss may increase more than 1.5-fold during the next three decades, with over 700 million likely to experience a moderate or higher level of hearing loss. Unless action is taken, this outcome will almost certainly result in a proportionate rise in associated costs,” the report emphasises. There are significant economic benefits and productivity gains from interventions.
Although it underlines the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of hearing technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, this first World Report on Hearing stresses the huge 83% service gap in the use of hearing aids, which it attributes to factors including regulation, pricing and stigmatisation. “Of those who could benefit from a hearing aid, only 17% actually use one. The gap is consistently high in all parts of the world, ranging from 77% to 83% across WHO regions, and from 74% to 90% across income levels,” the report makes clear.
Nevertheless, the WHO insists that challenges such as the hearing technology service gap can be overcome “through a strategic government-led planning and prioritisation process”.
Other key challenges
Among a broad list of obstacles in the way of moving forward on hearing health, one of the biggest, says the WHO, is the “glaring gap” in health systems’ human resources. “Among low-income countries, for example, approximately 78% have fewer than one ear, nose and throat 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,” the report bemoans, adding that “even in countries with relatively high proportions of professionals in the field of ear and hearing care, inequitable distribution and other factors can limit access to them.”
Another major challenge highlighted by the report is lack of knowledge and expertise among health-care providers, in particular relative to prevention, early identification, and management of hearing loss and ear diseases.
In the bigger picture, a major impediment is that most countries worldwide do not have ear and hearing care integrated into their national health systems, so “accessing care at different levels of service provision (community, primary, secondary and tertiary) may prove challenging for those with ear diseases and hearing loss,” reads the report.