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It's Time to Engage in Public Health

Clark, Jackie L. PhD; Chadha, Shelly PhD

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doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000717168.64209.fc
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Despite uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, serendipity has provided learnable moments about public health for audiologists. Foundationally, public health is defined as the science and art of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. These efforts are dependent upon the awareness and informed choices of community members. Some of us have regularly monitored statistical updates about confirmed and recovered COVID-19 cases as well as evolving policy development by our city, county, state, and national health officials. We have learned about specific public health terminology that may sound somewhat familiar: surveillance; risk identification; intervention; and implementation. The world has witnessed the World Health Organization's (WHO) globally relevant reports and guidance during the pandemic. Though by no means to the same degree as the life-threatening pandemic, hearing loss and deafness are recognized by the WHO as significant disabling conditions that require public health attention. It is important to understand that the WHO not only mobilizes global public health experts in the area of infectious diseases (like COVID-19) but also provides leadership in a wide breadth of activities addressing noncommunicable diseases, injury, burns, and functional impairments, which include hearing loss.

PROMOTING EAR & HEARING CARE

As in the case of COVID-19, the WHO typically works with national governments and health experts from all parts of the world to ensure the establishment and implementation of appropriate policies that promote equitable access to medical services for the prevention and treatment of hearing loss. To do so, the WHO program on ear and hearing care (EHC) raises awareness at all levels of society, and supports countries through technical guidance and assistance in the implementation of contextually appropriate evidence-based strategies for EHC. To this end, the WHO continues to create free high-quality digital materials so that any country can follow a step-wise approach to integrating ear and hearing care within its national health systems. Tangible benefits include sensitizing a variety of populations through contextually based materials while also providing hands-on technical assistance wherever requested.

Given the importance of advocacy among the general population, policymakers, and health care professionals, the WHO organizes the annual World Hearing Day on March 3. This global event provides unique grassroots opportunities for clinical and administrative personnel to highlight EHC within their communities.

WORLD REPORT ON HEARING

Another valuable WHO tool, soon to be launched, is the World Report on Hearing, which has been created based on current scientific evidence and further tempered with the inputs and experiences of stakeholders across the world. This World Report aims to bring the ear and hearing care agenda to the forefront of global public health. It will provide facts and long-needed data to maximize advocacy activities for awareness, management, and solutions. Ultimately, it will showcase global opportunities available to prevent and address hearing loss across the life course through established, cost-effective interventions.

The World Report will also analyze in detail the challenges faced in scaling up interventions and promoting their equitable access. It will provide a clear direction for the future, laying out strategies that can be adopted and gradually scaled up to reduce the increasing number of people with, and impact of, unaddressed hearing loss.

The World Report is a call to action not just for national governments and public health agencies but also for hearing care professionals since it provides compelling arguments that can be used in lobbying with decision makers and with people in their circles who so often control the purse strings. The World Report will also include simple tools to engage the wider community as a first step toward improving awareness while changing negative perceptions about hearing loss.

We all dream about the day when the stigma surrounding hearing loss and hearing technology is quelled and when people with ear diseases and hearing loss have equitable access to needed hearing care services. This can only happen when we unite and work as a team in sharing simple, clear, consistent messages with stakeholders and policymakers in all communities and all parts of the world. The first step is to sign up for the WHO EHC mailing list (easily done by sending an email to whf@who.int) to get updates about and engage in upcoming activities and actions, especially the launch of the World Report on Hearing, which is expected in March 2021.

As Star Trek's Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say—ENGAGE!

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