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INTERNATIONAL, HEALTH

Changing mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!

Changing mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!

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By Ms Saima Wazed, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia

DILI, 04 march 2024 (TATOLI) – Each year, on March 03, we observe World Hearing Day to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss, and to promote ear and hearing care across the world. This year, we observe the occasion with a call to focus on “Changing Mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!”

We know that challenges remain due to societal misperceptions and mindsets marked by stigma, and on this day we renew our focus to overcome these by raising awareness and through information-sharing, targeted at the public and healthcare providers.

It is estimated that over 1.5 billion people globally are affected by hearing loss, nearly 80% of whom live in low- and middle-income countries of the world. In our region itself, an estimated 400 million people currently have ear and hearing problems.

Unfortunately, these numbers are rising. At the current rate, it is likely that by 2050 there could be over 660 million people with ear and hearing problems in our region alone.

Despite its prevalence, and the fact that effective interventions are available and cost-effective, globally, over 80% of ear and hearing care needs remain unmet. It is evident that this must be addressed with urgency.

Hearing loss has severe implications for language development, psychological well-being, quality of life, educational attainment, and economic independence.

The fact is that many of the common causes of hearing loss, such as birth-related problems or ear diseases can be prevented; and nearly everyone with an ear or hearing problem can benefit through available effective and cost-effective medical, surgical and rehabilitative interventions.

The economic impact of unaddressed hearing loss is staggering. The global annual cost is nearly US$1 trillion, and the cost for our Region alone is $110 billion.

However, investing just US$1.33 per capita annually for ear and hearing care in health systems can yield a remarkable return of nearly US$16 for every dollar invested over a 10-year period. This investment, if sustained, promises substantial returns and a significant reduction in unaddressed hearing loss costs.

I am pleased that many Member States in our region have prioritized ear and hearing care.

Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal have already conducted situational assessment using WHO tools, and are progressing towards strategic development for strengthening ear and hearing care services.

Myanmar aims to provide integrated services in combination with Eye Care, Elderly, Mental Health Care service in a people-centered approach at community level. Free hearing aids were provided in Myanmar when the situational assessment was conducted last year.

Bhutan has started screening all children for ear and hearing and provided services including hearing aids at free of cost for children.

Currently, our teams are collaborating with and providing technical support to the Government of India to redesign the National Program for Prevention and Control of Deafness.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Health intends to develop a roadmap for ear and hearing disorder prevention and control, and this will also be supported by our teams as a part of the current biennium workplan.

Moving forward, our Regional priorities include accelerating the implementation of people-centered ear and hearing care services, promoting safe listening practices, advocating for research and data generation, and strengthening human resources.

Let us unite in our commitment to change mindsets related to ear and hearing care, recognizing the impact it has on lives and livelihoods. By addressing misperceptions, promoting awareness, and advocating for increased investment and integration in primary healthcare, we can and will pave the way for a healthier, more inclusive future.

 

TATOLI

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