IAMP releases Statement on Healthcare for Hearing Loss
Karl White leaned forward, moved the cursor over the right-pointing triangle, and clicked the mouse. In the darkened room an old black and white video began to play. Recorded in the 1960s, it showed a family playing in their back yard. Except one of the children, aged about six, was very difficult to understand. It was almost as if he had a mental disorder. In fact, White informed his audience, the boy had no problem learning, he just couldn’t hear. A re-run of the same video with subtitles was required for the audience to get a clear picture of the conversation.
“Now fast forward 20 years,” said White, a professor at Utah State University in the US, who was presenting at a symposium on hearing loss at the October 2014 World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany. He showed another video, in colour this time, of two boys – also aged about six – proudly showing off their cochlear implants. The boys, who were diagnosed at an early age as having the same auditory malfunction as the boy in the previous video, happily conversed with one another, their friends and the audience. No problem.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally there are about 360 million people suffering from hearing loss. And about half these cases – some 180 million – are preventable. A simple screening test at or soon after birth, for example, can determine if there is a need for a cochlear implant; vaccinations against rubella and meningitis can reduce the incidence of hearing loss in children; reducing occupational noise can also benefit adults; and some drugs, such as the antibiotic gentamycin and even aspirin, can have so-called ototoxic effects, causing damage to the ear, and must be used with caution.
For the 32 million children worldwide who live with partially or totally impaired hearing, if their condition isn’t identified and given appropriate treatment early in life then they typically experience delays in developing speech, language and cognitive skills – with knock-on effects such as unnecessary learning difficulties in school and difficulties interacting with family and friends.
"Infants and young children born with hearing loss require three equally essential elements in the first years of life to mitigate the effects of deafness on their cognitive, language, and social development confirmed Paige Stringer, Founder and Executive Director of the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss. “These are: early identification of hearing loss, access to appropriate hearing technology, and the ongoing support of locally-based professionals trained in audiology and early intervention. But time is of essence when addressing the needs of these children.
“Through the work of the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss, we have seen that when all three elements are put into place in combination, children with hearing loss can learn to communicate on a par with their normal hearing peers and can achieve their full potential as contributors to their families and to society."
And then there are some 328 million adults – including almost two-thirds of those over 70 years old. Evidence is accumulating that, in adults, hearing loss is associated with a greater risk of dementia and disability.
These figures, concerning as they are, also hide another important factor. There is a disproportionate number of people struggling with the effects of hearing loss in the world’s low- and middle-income countries. In the richer countries, people generally have access to specialist medical care and can afford costly devices such as cochlear implants. In much of the South, access to even the simplest of routine checks or hearing aid devices is limited.
Indeed, as Paige Stringer has pointed out, there are financial benefits to assisting hearing impaired children early in life, especially in developing countries, as helping them to integrate fully into society can reduce dependency on their families and societies for the rest of their lives.
So, despite the fact that many of the causes of hearing loss can be identified and remedied, millions of people still live less than fulfilling lives, with associated detrimental impacts on their families and wider societies.
It is for this reason that today – 3 March, International Ear Care Day – the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP) is releasing its latest Statement: “A Call for Action to Strengthen Healthcare for Hearing Loss”, which has so far been endorsed by over forty IAMP member academies.
Translations have been very kindly made available by various members of IAMP
LINKS FROM MEMBER ACADEMIES
Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical & Natural Sciences
Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)South African Journal of Science Volume 111 Issue 3/4