GENEVA, July 3 — "The best way to predict the future is to create it," said Shelly Chadha, PhD, technical officer of World Health Organization's (WHO) programme on Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss at the opening of the 3rd stakeholders' meeting that started today. The meeting brought together experts from hearing professional groups, clinicians, and civic society, among many others, to promote and improve the implementation of the 2017 World Health Assembly resolution on hearing loss prevention (WHA70.13) through a shared vision for global action.
"The resolution clearly sets out the goal that ear and hearing care should be accessible to all as a part of health care service delivery," noted Etienne Krug, MD, director of the of WHO's Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention (NVI). "And this goal is very much aligned with WHO's overall priority."
Hearing loss affects over 460 million people globally, and 60 percent of childhood hearing loss cases are preventable. However, high-quality epidemiological data on hearing loss and access to hearing care services and technology remain limited. The WHA70.13 resolution was adopted to call upon governments and policy makers to address hearing loss through strategies integrated into health care systems.
ONE YEAR DOWN
Before WHA70.13, the last WHA resolution on hearing impairment prevention in 1995 (WHA48.9). Since the 2017 resolution's implementation, WHO has made strong headways in coordinating multi-stakeholder platforms and opportunities. Based on the WHA resolution, WHO has identified key action areas for 2017-2021, explained Dr. Chadha. These are evidenced-based advocacy, data, technical support, and the "Make Listening Safe" initiative. The WHO-ITU "Global Standards for Safe Listening Devices" is set to be released later in 2018, while the "World Report on Hearing," which aims to frame hearing within the public health agenda, by March 2020.
WHO also provides technical support through its comprehensive ear and hearing tool kit and regional workshops with partners in India, Pakistan, China, Philippines, among others. Maryam Mallick from WHO-Pakistan shared recent country-level efforts to address hearing issues, such as adding assistive technology to the prime minister's National Health Insurance program and conducting national need-based assessment surveys. Engaging various stakeholders and activating different communication channels have also been instrumental in advancing advocacy efforts such as the annual World Hearing Day.
MAKING HEARING CARE A PRIORITY
"We are not there yet, and we have a long way to go," said Alarcos Cieza, PhD, who oversees WHO’s work on rehabilitation and disability. "The need for hearing care is huge and this need will increase in the years to come."
At present, there's a gap between the high need for hearing care, low demand for hearing services due to low awareness, and low supply of health care resources and technology, particularly in low- and middle-income nations. "The question we need to really answer together is how we can turn this around so that we not only have a huge need but also a huge demand," Dr. Cieza added.
Moving forward, Dr. Chadha was prompt to identify immediate priorities. "What we really need is to define what kind of action we can take from the global level that can lead to changes at local level," she noted.
"It's important for us to keep driving this momentum that was provided by the WHA resolution and keep moving this issue forward in whichever country we work, whichever group we represent, and whichever section of society we come from."