The WHA, the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO), which includes senior health leaders from 192 member nations, has reaffirmed that concrete steps must be taken in order to make progress in dealing with the rising prevalence of hearing loss. The resolution reinforces that hearing loss is a significant public health issue, requiring every government to make it a higher priority and develop a national action plan to address it.
The WHO estimates that over 360 million people – over 5 percent of the world’s population – live with disabling hearing loss, 32 million of whom are children. With prevalence rates rising, the global cost of unaddressed hearing loss has recently been estimated at $750 billion per year.
The WHA resolution outlines practical, cost-effective steps, starting with awareness, hearing screening programs at key stages of life, and making assistive hearing technologies, such cochlear implants, more accessible to those who need them.
Chris Smith, Cochlear CEO & President, welcomed the leadership of government health policy leaders worldwide.
“This resolution gives hope to people with disabling hearing loss, no matter their age, or where they’re from,” said Smith. “In some countries, children with hearing loss are excluded from schooling. Adults with hearing loss are unable to find work or fulfill their potential, and older adults face costly health problems when hearing loss is unaddressed.”
“The jury is no longer out – deafness and hearing loss have been found to be a significant global public health issue and the world’s leading health policy-setting body has said it’s time to act. At Cochlear, we are driven by our mission to improve the lives of people with hearing loss, and as a hearing health expert, we join with other stakeholders to play our part in tackling this global health issue.”
“This resolution is a major milestone and if implemented, has the potential to alleviate the enormous burden experienced by millions of people and many societies.”
The resolution sets out a number of critical steps for addressing the impact of deafness and hearing loss, including:
- Raised awareness among decision-makers and the general public about the high prevalence of hearing loss and its social and economic impact
- Improved access to affordable, high-quality assistive hearing technologies and products, including hearing aids and cochlear implants, as part of universal health coverage
- Enhanced screening programs to identify and diagnose ear disease and hearing loss early, with attention placed on infants, young children and older adults
- Raised awareness of noise-induced hearing loss and implementation of measures that address occupational, environmental and recreational exposure to noise
- Better data collection on ear disease and hearing loss to educate and inform policy decision-makers to develop evidence-based strategies
Many of the causes of hearing loss can be avoided through public health measures; it is estimated that 60 percent of hearing loss in children can be prevented. This figure is higher (75 percent) in low and middle-income countries than in high-income countries (49 percent).