1 in 4 people will have hearing loss by 2050 – WHO

World Hearing Day

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has projected that by 2050, one in four persons will be living with some degree of hearing loss. This amounts to almost 2.5 billion people worldwide.
In its first World Report on hearing, the entity said on Tuesday that from this number, at least 700 million people would require access to ear and hearing care.
WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that these statistics shed some light on the magnitude of hearing loss but presents an opportunity for intervention through various healthcare systems.
“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 towards universal health coverage,” the Director General noted.
The report was launched ahead of World Hearing Day, celebrated on March 3. It 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.
Some of the main findings inked in the report highlight the lack of accurate information and stigmatising attitudes to ear diseases. 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.
“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.”
Notwithstanding, the most glaring gap in health system capacity is listed as human resources. In 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 WHO added, “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.”

Preventing hearing loss
It has been identified that in children, almost 60 per cent of hearing loss can be prevented through measures such as immunisation for the prevention of rubella and meningitis; improved maternal and neonatal care, and screening for, and early management of otitis media (an inflammatory disease of the middle ear).
In adults, the acts of noise control, safe listening and surveillance of ototoxic medicines together with good ear hygiene can help maintain good hearing.
“Identification is the first step in addressing hearing loss and related ear diseases. Clinical screening at strategic points in life ensure that any loss of hearing and ear diseases can be identified as early as possible. Recent technological advances, including accurate and easy-to-use tools, can identify ear disease and hearing loss at any age, in clinical or community settings, and with limited training and resources.”
Once diagnosed, the report notes that 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, it says rehabilitation can ensure that those affected avoid the adverse consequences of hearing loss.
“Hearing technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, when accompanied by appropriate support services and rehabilitative therapy are effective and cost-effective and can benefit children and adults alike… The use of sign language and other means of sensory substitution such as speech reading are important options for many deaf people; hearing assistive technology and services such as captioning and sign language interpretation can further improve access to communication and education for those with hearing loss,” the WHO statement advised. (G12)