Editor’s Note: The guest editorial below is being simultaneously published in Ear and Hearing and the International Journal of Audiology. This guest editorial, from authors at the World Health Organization, is designed to promote public awareness of ear disease and hearing loss throughout the world. Increased awareness of the issues surrounding hearing and hearing loss is in the best interest of global public health and we are pleased to be able to share it with our readers.
THE NEED FOR GLOBAL ACTION ON HEARING LOSS
It is estimated that over 5% of the world’s population experiences disabling hearing loss* (World Health Organization 2012; Olusanya et al. 2014). Studies suggest that if we include mild and unilateral hearing loss in this estimation, over 20% of the world’s adult population would have some degree of hearing loss (Stevens et al. 2011), making it the most common sensory impairment among humans. Given our dependence on communication, the reduction or loss of hearing has a significant impact on an individual’s life including language development, cognition, education, employment and economic and psychosocial well-being (Yoshinaga-Itano et al. 1998; Karchmer & Allen 1999; Bess et al. 2011; Fellinger et al. 2012; Olusanya et al. 2014).
The fact that the prevalence and impact of hearing loss can be mitigated through public health actions is well known. Recent estimates suggest that nearly 60% of hearing loss among children can be prevented through public health measures (World Health Organization 2016a). For those who develop hearing loss, early diagnosis and suitable interventions go a long way in improving outcomes. Despite this, only a few countries, predominantly in the high-income group, have implemented strategic plans to address hearing loss (World Health Organization 2013). The growing need for hearing care and lack of policies to address it poses a public health challenge (Olusanya & Newton 2007) requiring coordinated, comprehensive action to drive policy formulation, seek financial resources, and enhance hearing care accessibility (Olusanya et al. 2014).
Taking cognizance of these facts, World Health Organization (WHO) organized a Stakeholders’ Consultation on prevention of deafness and hearing loss at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland in July 2016 (World Health Organization 2016b). Professionals in the field of ear and hearing, international professional associations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups, academic institutions and manufacturers of hearing devices came together to propose actions for promoting global access to ear and hearing care. One of the key discussion points during this meeting was the need for a coordinated global advocacy effort to prioritize ear and hearing care.
ADVOCACY FOR HEARING LOSS THROUGH WORLD HEARING DAY
The first step in translating knowledge and research into action is to raise awareness through evidence-based advocacy (Friedlaender & Winston 2004). In its program for prevention and control of deafness and hearing loss, WHO has highlighted evidence-based advocacy as one of its program objectives, along with development of technical tools and implementation of national strategies for hearing care (World Health Organization 2016c). Over the past few years, WHO prevention and control of deafness and hearing loss has focused its advocacy efforts around the World Hearing Day.
World Hearing Day is observed annually on 3rd March with the primary aim of raising awareness about different aspects of hearing loss amongst all people, including policy makers, health care professionals, developmental agencies, and civil society (World Health Organization 2016d).
Since 2001, 3rd March was observed as National Ear Care Day in China. In 2007, it was established as International Ear Care Day during the First International Conference on Prevention and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impairment (World Health Organization 2015a). Interestingly, the rationale for selecting this date was that the number 3.3 represents the shape of two ears. In 2015, the name was changed to World Hearing Day, to focus more on the function rather than the organ (ear) of hearing.
Each year, WHO identifies one aspect of ear and hearing care, which should be highlighted as the advocacy theme. Evidence-based key messages are developed to support the theme and accompanied by a package of information products. Such a package may include posters, banners, brochures, pamphlets, infographics, videos, or other materials, often in multiple languages. These are used by groups, organizations, and individuals around the world to plan activities ranging from community-based actions to high-level advocacy. Awareness sessions, screening programs, provision of hearing devices, walks and runs to advocate for hearing, strategic planning workshops, and launches of national strategies/programs are some examples of such activities that have been undertaken in the past. (World Health Organization 2014, 2015b, 2016e).
WHO also organizes activities at its headquarters in Geneva including media coverage. Through Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, a social media campaign is launched by WHO around the day to take the messages on hearing loss to an ever-increasing number of people.
Over the past few years, many organizations, civil society groups, and opinion leaders have joined this social media campaign. Last year saw the participation of a number of leading rock bands and rock stars, who tweeted WHO’s messages on World Hearing Day and promoted safe listening among their fans.
WORLD HEARING DAY THEMES
Since 2013, WHO has been promoting World Hearing Day with a theme, to emphasize different aspects and areas of ear and hearing. The themes over the past few years include:
- 2013: Healthy Hearing, Happy Life—Hearing Health Care for Ageing People.
- 2014: Ear Care Can Avoid Hearing Loss.
- 2015: Make Listening Safe.
- 2016: Childhood Hearing Loss: Act Now, Here’s How!
On the World Hearing Day 2015, WHO raised alarm about the risk to hearing posed by unsafe listening habits (World Health Organization 2015c) and launched the “Make Listening Safe” initiative. This highlights the potentially devastating risk posed by injudicious exposure in recreational settings and promotes safe listening practices among youth through raised awareness and development of safer technology for listening to music (World Health Organization 2015d). WHO is working on this initiative with numerous partners and experts, with the vision that people of all ages should be able to enjoy listening to music with full protection of their hearing.
2016 drew attention to the impact of childhood hearing loss. A brochure, an infographic, posters and banners outlined ways and means to integrate preventive and interventional strategies for childhood hearing loss within health care programs (World Health Organization 2016f).
In 2017, WHO plans to highlight the economic impact of hearing loss and cost-effectiveness of interventions to address this condition with the theme: “Action for hearing loss: make a sound investment” (World Health Organization 2016d).
JOIN WHO’S ADVOCACY EFFORTS
Over the past few years, an increasing number of partners and countries across the world have been observing this day through advocacy and action for ear and hearing care. Anyone can simply join this effort by undertaking hearing-related activities on 3rd March. You can access information on the upcoming theme and past activities on the WHO webpage and download WHO information products and materials free of cost (World Health Organization 2016d). You can also sign up on WHO’s website (http://www.who.int/pbd/deafness/world-hearing-day/en/) to receive alerts and information about the World Hearing Day activities. All actions undertaken at any level within the community will serve to strengthen this effort to advocate for hearing loss. Vincent Van Gogh said that “Great things are done by small things brought together.” We believe that as the number of people, organizations, and countries participating in this initiative grow, so will its impact on the global health agenda.
WHO Department for Management of NCDs, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
* Disabling hearing loss refers to moderate or greater hearing loss in the worse hearing ear.
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