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World Hearing Forum

Prioritizing Global Ear and Hearing Care

Curhan, Sharon G., MD, ScM

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000550394.51777.59
World Hearing Forum

Dr. Curhan is a physician and an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. As a clinical researcher in chronic disease epidemiology and prevention, her NIH-funded research focuses on the identification of risk factors for acquired hearing loss and tinnitus in large ongoing cohort studies with over 250,000 participants. She is the section editor of Ear and Hearing and a member of the WHO working group for the revision of the WHO ear and hearing disorders survey.

Hearing loss and the growing need for improved access to ear and hearing care are pressing global public health issues. Worldwide, the number of individuals living with disabling hearing loss is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be at least 466 million people, including 34 million children (WHO Fact Sheet http://bit.ly/2Ow3UCY). Given the adverse ramifications of even mild degrees of hearing loss, the proportion of the world's population negatively impacted by hearing loss is likely substantially greater. Nonetheless, general awareness of and demand for quality affordable ear and hearing care are despairingly low. Clearly, it is time to make ear and hearing care a global public health priority.

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RESOLUTION TO ACTION

In 2017, the WHO World Health Assembly (WHA) unanimously adopted a resolution, WHA70.13 on prevention of deafness and hearing loss, calling for global efforts to prevent hearing loss and make ear and hearing care more available and accessible (WHA, 2017 http://bit.ly/2Ot9TrX). This resolution provides meaningful documentation that underscores the critical importance of prevention and the need for improved management of ear and hearing disorders. However, to translate this resolution into effective action, a strategic collaborative public health approach that unites stakeholders from across disciplines, interests, and geographic regions will be imperative.

To achieve this goal, the WHO Programme for Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss has launched an ambitious new initiative, the World Hearing Forum (WHF). The WHF aims to drive a global campaign to promote and facilitate implementation of the WHA resolution by building a strong and unified collaboration of stakeholders from across disciplines around the world. The WHF will establish an advocacy network that will galvanize attention, stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue, and promote cross-cutting collaborations in ear and hearing care. As a unifying body and strategic WHO partner, the WHF will enable more powerful advocacy by crystallizing a common vision and coordinating constructive action to improve the availability and affordability of quality ear and hearing care.

The WHF will be hosted within the WHO Programme for Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss and structured as a federation of participating organizations, with a diverse, inclusive, and multidisciplinary membership. Participants will include those in the private and public sectors, professional societies, advocacy groups, governments and non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, user groups, private and corporate sponsors, the WHO and its partners, academic institutions, and professional journals.

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GOALS AND STRATEGIES

The primary goals of the WHF will be advocacy and networking. Specifically, WHF advocacy will focus on gaining political commitment from national governments, donors, and international organizations to support a global campaign that prioritizes ear and hearing care as a public health issue. In addition, the WHF will create networking opportunities through conferences, workshops, seminars, and online forums, to enhance information-sharing and encourage collaborations among professionals. Ultimately, the WHF will become a strong, cohesive global presence that will increase visibility, inspire engagement, and reach beyond traditional sectors to engender champions of ear and hearing care.

A strong coalition of committed stakeholders will be critical to achieving the scale and impact needed to make ear and hearing health a global public health priority. Accordingly, the WHF will create an inclusive participatory arena to encourage collaborations across specialties and interests. Hearing health clinicians, academics, and researchers are keenly aware of the potentially devastating and disabling consequences of hearing loss on people's communication, health, educational success, psychosocial and cognitive well-being, economic independence, and quality of life. However, previous advocacy efforts that lacked a common vision, unifying platform, or strong cooperative network have been disjointed. As a result, recognition and understanding of the individual and societal implications of hearing loss remain low. Therefore, a key objective of the WHF is to develop more persuasive communication and advocacy strategies to raise awareness based on well-coordinated and consistent messaging.

The WHF is an exciting and timely new initiative. By promoting networking and strengthening advocacy, the WHF can drive community action and systemic change that will advance the WHO's overarching vision of “a world in which no person experiences hearing loss due to preventable causes and those with hearing loss can achieve their full potential through rehabilitation, education, and empowerment” (WHO, 2018 http://bit.ly/2OurPCO). Additional information on the WHF and guidance for membership will soon be published online (http://bit.ly/2OxasRF).

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