The World Health Organization has warned that one in four people in the world - nearly 2.5 billion people - will be living with some degree of hearing impairment by 2050.
“By 2050 nearly 2.5 billion people will be living with some degree of hearing loss, at least 700 million of whom will require rehabilitation services. Failure to act will be costly in terms of the health and well-being of those affected, and the financial losses arising from their exclusion from communication, education and employment," the WHO said, in its first 'World Report on Hearing' released on Wednesday.
The report added that during the current times, when the world is faced with the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, investing efforts and resources to prevent and address hearing loss is warranted for several reasons.
Many cases of hearing loss can be prevented through effective and available measures, with more than 1 billion young people at risk of avoidable hearing loss, and around 200 million suffering with preventable or treatable chronic ear infections.
The report said innovative, cost–effective technological and clinical solutions can improve the lives of most individuals with hearing loss.
Millions are already benefitting from these developments and combining the power of technology with sound public health strategies can ensure that these benefits reach all, especially those in underserved and remote areas of the world, the report stated.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “our ability to hear is precious."
"Untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on people's ability to communicate, to study and to earn a living. It can also impact on people’s mental health and their ability to sustain relationships," he said.
The report, launched on March 3, World Hearing Day, underlines the need to rapidly step up efforts to prevent and address hearing loss by investing and expanding access to ear and hearing care services.
The report noted that at the current rate of prevalence, nearly 1 trillion international dollars are lost annually from unaddressed hearing loss.
"Unless action is taken, this figure will continue to rise in the coming decades. At the same time, investment in ear and hearing care has been shown to be cost–effective, and governments can expect a return of nearly 16 international dollars for every dollar invested,” it said.
The report added that lack of accurate information and stigmatising attitudes to ear diseases and hearing loss often limit people from accessing care for these conditions.
"Even among health-care providers, there's often a shortage of knowledge about prevention, early identification and management of hearing loss and ear diseases, hampering their ability to provide the care required," it said.
In most countries, ear and hearing care is still not integrated into national health systems and accessing care services is challenging for those with ear diseases and hearing loss.
Moreover, access to ear and hearing care is poorly measured and documented, and relevant indicators are lacking in the health information system, a WHO release said.
The report added that in children, almost 60 per cent of hearing loss can be prevented through measures such as immunisation for prevention of rubella and meningitis, improved maternal and neonatal care, and screening for, and early management of, otitis media, an inflammatory diseases of the middle ear.
In adults, “noise control, safe listening and surveillance of ototoxic medicines together with good ear hygiene can help maintain good hearing and reduce the potential for hearing loss,” it said.
The WHO release said that identification is the first step in addressing hearing loss and related ear diseases. Clinical screening at strategic points in life ensure that any loss of hearing and ear diseases can be identified as early as possible.
“Recent technological advances, including accurate and easy-to-use tools, can identify ear disease and hearing loss at any age, in clinical or community settings, and with limited training and resources. Screening can even take place in challenging situations such as those encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic and those living in underserved and remote areas of the world,” it said.
The report noted that medical and surgical treatment can cure most ear diseases, potentially reversing the associated hearing loss.
“However, where hearing loss is irreversible, rehabilitation can ensure that those affected avoid the adverse consequences of hearing loss. A range of effective options are available,” it said.
Hearing technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, when accompanied by appropriate support services and rehabilitative therapy are effective and cost-effective and can benefit children and adults alike, it said.