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Professionals Work to Address Hearing Loss Prevention

A workshop involving key stakeholders and health professionals from 14 countries of the WHO European Region contributed to strengthening capacity for implementing World Health Assembly resolution WHA70.13 on the prevention of deafness and hearing loss, adopted in 2017.

WHO organized the event together with the WHO Collaborating Centre for Ear and Hearing Care at the National Research Centre for Audiology and Hearing Rehabilitation in Moscow, Russian Federation. It took place in Moscow on 16 and 17 October 2018.

Participants shared updates on the current prevalence of hearing loss, discussed the status of ear and hearing care services and corresponding human resources, and explored key issues related to hearing loss and deafness. They left the event with priorities for action as well as a series of concrete next steps for the promotion of resolution WHA70.13 and its recommendations.

Participants were also presented with the first draft of the WHO world report on hearing. The report, prepared at the request of the World Health Assembly, is based on scientific evidence. The final version is to be launched in March 2020.

In September 2018, WHO established the World Hearing Forum, a global network of stakeholders promoting ear and hearing care worldwide. Members of this advocacy network are committed to facilitating the implementation of resolution WHA70.13. The Forum was presented during the workshop, and participants had the opportunity to share ideas on a global advocacy initiative that it plans to launch.

Hearing care and hearing loss: a public health issue

Globally, 466 million people live with disabling hearing loss, including 34 million children. Countries of central and eastern Europe and central Asia contribute nearly 7.5% of the overall prevalence. Among adults over the age of 65, nearly 1 in 3 experience disabling hearing loss.

It is expected that the prevalence of hearing loss will rise considerably in coming decades due to changing population demographics, increasing exposure to risk factors such as noise, and the persistence of untreated ear conditions such as otitis media.

Many of the causes of hearing loss are preventable. Yet unaddressed hearing loss is one of the leading causes of morbidity and poses an annual cost of US$ 750 billion globally.

In children, 60% of hearing loss can be prevented through public health strategies. Those who have hearing loss can greatly benefit from timely and appropriate interventions. Implementation of proven strategies to prevent hearing loss and to rehabilitate those with irreversible impairments requires a number of public health measures, including the integration of high-quality, comprehensive ear and hearing care services into national health systems.

Hearing loss can often be managed medically, surgically or through other means – for example, hearing aids, assistive devices and cochlear implants. Currently, hearing aid production meets less than 10% of global need. In developing countries, fewer than 1 in 40 people who need a hearing aid have one.

The 2017 World Health Assembly highlighted hearing care and hearing loss as a public health issue. Resolution WHA70.13 calls upon WHO and Member States to develop public health strategies to make ear and hearing care accessible for all.

Addressing hearing loss through accessible ear and hearing care is essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3, which calls on all stakeholders to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

Improving ear and hearing care will also contribute significantly to WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work, with its goal of achieving universal health coverage to ensure that 1 billion people enjoy better health and well-being.