Marked on 3 March, World Hearing Day puts in the limelight a medical condition that devastates the lives of many people. Fortunately, the damage of hearing loss can be largely downsized through awareness and early intervention.
World Health Organization (WHO) announced the immediate need for actions that would save many countries the costs of dealing with this problem if it was tackled at an early stage.
Main causes of hearing loss
According to WHO, almost 60 percent of hearing loss in children can be prevented through measures such as immunisation for prevention of rubella and meningitis, improved maternal and neonatal care, and screening for, and early management of, diseases of the middle ear.
In adults, noise control, safe listening, and surveillance of particular medicines, together with good ear hygiene, can help maintain good hearing and reduce the potential for hearing loss.
Identification is the first step in addressing hearing loss and related ear diseases. Clinical screening at strategic points in life ensures that hearing loss and ear diseases can be identified as early as possible.
Hearing loss in Egypt
According to the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, some 4.5 million people in Egypt (approximately five percent of the population) are living with partial or complete hearing loss.
Children make up around 130,000 of these figures.
The past five years saw intensive efforts by NGOs, such as Misr El-Kheir, in preventing and the early detection of hearing loss. In addition, Egyptian medical universities have been collaborating with the private sector to launch awareness campaigns and send convoys to inspect the hearing abilities of children in various governorates, including Assiut, Qena, and Aswan.
Egypt’s General Authority for Health Insurance signed a protocol to build rehabilitation centres and audiology units in health insurance hospitals, including five rehabilitation centers to be built in the following years. The role of rehabilitation for kids and parents was brought to the forefront, highlighting its importance after cochlear implants procedures.
Many celebrities have engaged in efforts to shed light on the importance of the cause and raise awareness regarding early detection. The celebrities include prominent actor Mohamed Sobhi and star Yousra El-Lozy, who bravely shared the story of her daughter who is suffering from the ailment.
The WHO released yesterday its first World Report on Hearing, stating that at least 700 million people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken.
The report contains several alarming figures, saying that nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide ─ or one in four people ─ will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050.
The report stresses that in most countries, ear and hearing care is still not integrated into national healthcare services.
Moreover, access to ear and hearing care is poorly measured and documented, and relevant indicators are lacking in the health information system.
But the most glaring gap in the health system capacity is in human resources. Among low-income countries, about 78 percent have fewer than one ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist per million population; 93 percent have fewer than one audiologist per million; only 17 percent have one or more speech therapist per million; and 50 percent have one or more teacher for the deaf per million.
The report states that recent technological advances, including accurate and easy-to-use tools, can identify ear disease and hearing loss at any age, in clinical or community settings, and with limited training and resources.
Screening can even take place in challenging situations, such as those encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic and those living in underserved and remote areas of the world.
Access to timely and appropriate care
The report stresses that once diagnosed, early intervention is key. Medical and surgical treatment can cure most ear diseases, potentially reversing the associated hearing loss. However, where hearing loss is irreversible, rehabilitation can ensure that those affected avoid the adverse consequences of hearing loss. A range of effective options are available.
Hearing technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, when accompanied by appropriate support services and rehabilitative therapy are effective and cost-effective and can benefit children and adults alike.
The report notes that the use of sign language and other means of sensory substitution, such as speech reading, are important options for many deaf people; hearing assistive technology and services such as captioning and sign language interpretation can further improve access to communication and education for those with hearing loss.
In a statement commenting on the report, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "Our ability to hear is precious. Untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on people’s ability to communicate, to study and to earn a living. It can also impact people’s mental health and their ability to sustain relationships.
“This new report outlines the scale of the problem, but also offers solutions in the form of evidence-based interventions that we encourage all countries to integrate into their health systems as part of their journey towards universal health coverage,” he added.