March 3, 2021 12:49:24 am
Nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide – or 1 in 4 people – will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050, warns the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) first World Report on Hearing, released on Tuesday. At least 700 million of these people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken.
The report, launched ahead of World Hearing Day on March 3, underlines the need to rapidly step up efforts to prevent and address hearing loss by investing and expanding access to ear and hearing care services.
Over 27,000 children are born deaf every year in India. Hearing impairment or loss is often neglected as it cannot be seen and in most cases the diagnosis is delayed.
Dr Kalyani Mandke, audiologist, said, there are many children who can benefit through advanced hearing technology but are missed out because of low awareness around hearing issues in babies. “One major reason is the unavailability of newborn screening programmes at birth and low awareness among parents. Such screening programmes can help in early diagnosis, which in turn will lead to early treatment,” she said.
The Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) helps in early detection of congenital hearing loss and this test is vital to detect hearing impairment in newborn babies and to ensure early intervention. While UNHS screening in mandatory in developed countries, it is not included in the list of mandatory health screening procedures for newborns in India, except Kerala.
In the absence of a screening programme, parents are still dependent to identify hearing loss in children through language learning and comprehension over a period. Such delays cost children up to 24 months of precious time of cognitive development. In contrast, children in countries where UNHS is implemented can take corrective measure through early intervention.
Among low-income countries, about 78% have fewer than one ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist per million population; 93% have fewer than one audiologist per million; only 17% have one or more speech therapist per million; and 50% have one or more teacher for the deaf per million. This gap can be closed through integration of ear and hearing care into primary healthcare through strategies such as task sharing and training, outlined in the report.
Main causes of hearing loss
In children, almost 60% of hearing loss 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, otitis media – inflammatory diseases of the middle ear. In adults, noise control, safe listening and surveillance of ototoxic 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 ensure that any loss of hearing and ear diseases can be identified as early as possible. 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.
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