Abuja, March 3, 2017 (TNE): No fewer than 360 million people worldwide live with disabling hearing loss, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, says.
Moeti revealed this in a statement to commemorate the “World Hearing Day” on Friday.
The theme of this year’s event is : “Action for hearing loss: make a sound investment”.
According to the director, unaddressed hearing loss costs the global economy 750 billion dollars yearly.
“Hearing loss costs the world about 750 billion dollars 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 per cent of the entire population lives with this invisible disability which too often goes unnoticed.
“It has multiple causes including birth complications, ear infections, exposure to excessive noise and ageing.”
According to Moetti, the inaction comes at a high cost, even costlier than the hearing devices.
She also noted that in Africa alone, the continent loses more than 20 billion dollars yearly to unaddressed hearing loss, with two billion accounting for lack of productivity, unemployment and premature retirement.
She explained that hearing loss had a significant societal cost because of social isolation, communication difficulties and stigma, estimated at more than 13 billion dollars each year at the regional level.
“In children, hearing loss can influence speech and language acquisition, significantly affects academic performance, and can lead to exclusion.
“Furthermore, the global production of hearing aid is grossly inadequate; and in low and middle-income countries, fewer than one in 40 people who need a hearing aid can afford one.
“These countries also have fewer human resources for ear and hearing care, such as Ear, Nose and Throat 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, and early detection and intervention is key, because half of all hearing loss can be avoided through prevention,” she remarked.
The WHO official advised individuals to protect their ears from loud noise in the workplace by wearing protective devices such as noise-cancelling headphones to reduce their exposure to recreational noise through volume control, or the use of ear plugs.
She also recommended primary health care interventions, noting that simple strategies such as immunising children against childhood diseases such as measles, meningitis, rubella and mumps, are necessary.
Moetti added that immunising adolescent girls and women of reproductive age against rubella would greatly reduce the risk of congenital hearing loss among babies.
She also said that identifying hearing loss early through screening of newborns, school children and adults above 50 years, as well as identifying and treating ear infections quickly, are further low-cost actions.
“Increasing the availability of sign language interpreters, and developing human rights legislation which makes information accessible to hearing impairment individuals, will promote their inclusion in the 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,” Moetti advised.