World Hearing Day: 4.5% Africans Live With Invisible Disability- WHO
Message of the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, on World Hearing Day, 3 March 2017
This year on 3 March 2017, World Hearing Day focuses on the economic impact of hearing loss. The theme is “Action for hearing loss: make a sound investment”.
About 360 million people – 5% of the world’s population – live with disabling hearing loss, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Unaddressed hearing loss poses a high cost for the economy globally. WHO estimates that it costs up to US$ 750 billion annually, which is equal to the annual combined health expenditure of Brazil and China, or the gross domestic product of the Netherlands.
In the African Region, around 4.5% of the entire population live with this invisible disability which too often goes unnoticed.
It has multiple causes including birth complications, ear infections, exposure to excessive noise and ageing. Inaction comes at a high cost.
Excluding the cost of hearing devices, unaddressed significant hearing loss in the African Region costs over US$ 20 billion annually, with about US$ 2 billion due to lost productivity from unemployment and premature retirement. Hearing loss also has a significant societal cost because of social isolation, communication difficulties and stigma, estimated at more than US$ 13 billion each year at the regional level.
In children, hearing loss can influence speech and language acquisition, significantly affect academic performance, and lead to exclusion. Furthermore, the global production of hearing aids is grossly inadequate, and in low- and middle-income countries, fewer than 1 in 40 people who need a hearing aid have one.
These countries also have fewer human resources for ear and hearing care, such as ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists, audiologists, and teachers for deaf children who are concentrated in high- and upper-middle-income countries.
The good news is that action to address hearing loss is cost-effective. Early detection and intervention are key; half of all hearing loss can be avoided through prevention. Individuals can protect their hearing from loud noise in the workplace by wearing protective devices such as noise-cancelling headphones, and reduce their exposure to recreational noise through volume control or the use of ear plugs. Primary health care interventions are the most effective.
Simple strategies include immunizing children against childhood diseases such as measles, meningitis, rubella and mumps, and immunizing adolescent girls and women of reproductive age against rubella, which will greatly reduce the risk of congenital hearing loss among babies. Identifying hearing loss early through screening of newborns, school children and adults above 50 years, and identifying and treating ear infections quickly are further low-cost actions.
Important actions at country level include putting in place strategies for the prevention and early identification of hearing loss, along with the provision of hearing devices and rehabilitation therapy.
Increasing the availability of sign language interpreters, and developing human rights legislation which makes information accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people will promote their inclusion in society.
As we commemorate World Hearing Day, I call on all countries and partners to allocate suitable resources to address hearing loss, and integrate ear and hearing care into health systems to enhance prevention and early detection.
We need to build human resource capacity to make these services more equitable in the African region, and increase awareness throughout society to ensure that no one is excluded.
Acting to address hearing loss leads to financial savings and returns on investment, increased access to education, greater employability which benefits the economy, and an integrated society. Investing in hearing loss is a sound investment.