By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
Untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on people’s ability to communicate, to study and to earn a living.
Hearing loss can also affect people’s mental health and their ability to sustain relationships.
Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adduced the information while commenting on WHO’s first World Report on Hearing.
The report which was published 3rd March 2021 predicted that nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide ─ or 1 in 4 people ─ will be living with some degree of hearing loss by year 2050.
The report emphasized that at least 700 million of these people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken.
“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,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said. “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 towards universal health coverage.”
The report, launched ahead of World Hearing Day on 3 March, 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.
Investment in ear and hearing care has been shown to be cost-effective: WHO calculates that governments can expect a return of nearly US$ 16 for every US$ 1 invested, WHO said in a statement dated 8th March 2021.
Main findings of the report includelack of accurate information and stigmatizing attitudes to ear diseases and hearing loss that often limit people from accessing care for these conditions.
“Even among health-care 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,” WHO stressed.
The United Nations (UN) agency showed concern that in most countries, ear and hearing care is still not integrated into national health systems and accessing care services is 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 health system capacity is in human resources. Among low-income countries, about 78% have fewer than one ear, nose and throat (ENT) 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. This gap can be closed through integration of ear and hearing care into primary health care 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,” the international authority on public health elaborated.