WHO Issues Guidelines For Expanding Access To Hearing Aids

A patient with age-related hearing loss (Presbycusis), receiving free treatment from the NGO, All Ears Cambodia.

Over 400 million people with hearing loss could benefit from hearing devices. However, less than 20% of those people actually get hearing aids. 

That’s one of the findings cited in new World Health Organisation guidelines on improving access to hearing care, published Friday, just ahead of World Hearing Day

“Unaddressed hearing loss is a global public health challenge and incurs an estimated cost of over US$ 1 trillion annually. Given the global shortage of ear and hearing care specialists, we have to rethink how we traditionally deliver services,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, director of the WHO’s Department for Noncommunicable Diseases.

By 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people are projected to experience a degree of hearing loss, as populations around the world age. More than 700 million will likely require hearing rehabilitation, estimates the WHO.

But nearly 80% of people with disabling hearing loss live in low-income countries – which historically have lacked capacity for providing assistive devices like hearing aids. 

Fighting misconceptions and lack of resources

But addressing hearing loss is not necessarily expensive. An investment of $1.4 per person annually would be sufficient to scale up ear and hearing care services worldwide, WHO said.

To overcome current limitations of capacity, the guidelines encourage more service delivery by non-specialists, based in primary health care settings. 

Debunking misconceptions and stigma around hearing loss is another key aim of the guidelines, created with the support of ATscale Global Partnership for Assistive Technology. 

“Common myths about hearing loss often prevent people from seeking the services they require, even where these services are available,” said Dr Shelly Chadha, technical lead for ear and hearing care at WHO. 

“Any effort to improve hearing care provision through health system strengthening must be accompanied by work to raise awareness within societies and address stigma related to ear and hearing care.”

Image Credits: WHO/Miguel Jeronimo.

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