Saima Wazed of WHO says time to make ear and hearing care a reality for all

Story by  ANI | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 04-03-2024
Siama Wajed, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia
Siama Wajed, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia


New Delhi

The World Health Organisation (WHO) observes World Hearing Day on March 3 every year to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss, and to promote ear and hearing care across the world.

WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Saima Wazed said that this year, the WHO is observing the occasion with a call to focus on "Changing Mindsets: Let's make ear and hearing care a reality for all!"

"We know that challenges remain due to societal misperceptions and mindsets marked by stigma, and on this day we renew our focus to overcome these by raising awareness and through information-sharing, targeted at the public and healthcare providers," Wazed said in a statement

It is estimated that over 1.5 billion people globally are affected by hearing loss, nearly 80 per cent of whom live in low- and middle-income countries of the world. In South-East Asia region itself, an estimated 400 million people currently have ear and hearing problems.

Unfortunately, these numbers are rising. At the current rate, it is likely that by 2050 there could be over 660 million people with ear and hearing problems in the region alone, the statement said.

Despite its prevalence, and the fact that effective interventions are available and cost-effective, globally, over 80 per cent of ear and hearing care needs remain unmet. It is evident that this must be addressed with urgency.

Hearing loss has severe implications for language development, psychological well-being, quality of life, educational attainment, and economic independence.

The fact is that many of the common causes of hearing loss, such as birth-related problems or ear diseases can be prevented; and nearly everyone with an ear or hearing problem can benefit through available effective and cost-effective medical, surgical and rehabilitative interventions.

The economic impact of unaddressed hearing loss is staggering. The global annual cost is nearly USD1 trillion, and the cost for our Region alone is USD 110 billion.

However, investing just USD 1.33 per capita annually for ear and hearing care in health systems can yield a remarkable return of nearly USD16 for every dollar invested over a 10-year period. This investment, if sustained, promises substantial returns and a significant reduction in unaddressed hearing loss costs, according to Wazed.

"I am pleased that many Member States in our region have prioritised ear and hearing care," the WHO official stated.

Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal have already conducted situational assessment using WHO tools, and are progressing towards strategic development for strengthening ear and hearing care services.

Myanmar aims to provide integrated services in combination with Eye Care, Elderly, Mental Health Care service in a people-centred approach at community level. Free hearing aids were provided in Myanmar when the situational assessment was conducted last year, the statement said.

Bhutan has started screening all children for ear and hearing and providing services including hearing aids free of cost for children.

"Currently, our teams are collaborating with and providing technical support to the Government of India to redesign the National Program for Prevention and Control of Deafness," WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Saima Wazed, said.

Indonesia's Ministry of Health intends to develop a roadmap for ear and hearing disorder prevention and control, and this will also be supported by WHO teams as a part of the current biennium workplan, he said.

Moving forward, Wazed said that regional priorities include accelerating the implementation of people-centered ear and hearing care services, promoting safe listening practices, advocating for research and data generation, and strengthening human resources.

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"Let us unite in our commitment to change mindsets related to ear and hearing care, recognizing the impact it has on lives and livelihoods. By addressing misperceptions, promoting awareness, and advocating for increased investment and integration in primary healthcare, we can and will pave the way for a healthier, more inclusive future," she concluded.