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Huge cost of hidden hearing loss in the spotlight on World Hearing Day

On World Hearing Day on Friday 3 March 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) is drawing attention to hearing loss, its economic impact and the cost-effectiveness of interventions to address it.

March 3rd has been designated by the World Health Organisation as World Hearing Day since it was first declared at an international conference on hearing loss held in China in 2007. This year, the WHO has chosen to shine a light on the huge cost to the world economy arising from untreated hearing loss.

More importantly, it’s theme of Action for Hearing Loss aims to demonstrate that interventions to reduce the adverse consequences of poor hearing are extremely cost effective – “it’s a sound investment”. This is true across the range of interventions, including prevention, screening, provision of hearing aids and other rehabilitation therapies, such as those to minimise the effects of tinnitus.

The latest estimate indicates that the lives of around 360 million people worldwide are affected by their hearing loss, with a total cost of around $750bn. Hearing problems are rarely a health condition – by far the majority of the impact lies in the societal implications, as people find difficulty engaging with groups, whether in the family, social or work settings. The WHO estimates that only around 10-15% of the economic impact is rooted in healthcare costs, with a similar figure attributable to direct loss of earnings.

This year the theme of World Hearing Day is “Action for hearing loss: make a sound investment”. In a new report, ‘Global costs of unaddressed hearing loss and cost-effectiveness of interventions’, WHO estimates that lack of attention towards hearing loss poses an overall annual cost of 750 billion international dollars globally. The financial costs to the health sector alone are 67-107 billion international dollars every year.

Hearing loss can be addressed

In some settings strategies to prevent hearing loss are well-established, and the actions taken in those settings have resulted in financial savings and significant return on investment. The establishment of early intervention programmes is improving access to ear and hearing care services generally. Moreover, technology is available to detect hearing loss at the earliest stage of development. When their needs are met, people with hearing loss are better able to access education, learn skills and be employed.

Interventions to address hearing loss are cost-effective

WHO’s new report focuses on solutions for lowering the prevalence and mitigating the impact of hearing loss. It highlights cost-effective strategies:

  • Prevention through early identification and treatment of ear infections and reduction of noise exposure
  • Early intervention programmes that help identify hearing loss through the screening of newborn and school-aged children and adults above 50 years of age
  • Provision of appropriate hearing devices, accompanied with rehabilitation.

Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, said: “Unaddressed hearing loss poses a great challenge not only for those who are affected by it, but also for their families, communities and countries. Cost-effective interventions can reduce the impact of hearing loss and ensure that people with hearing loss have the same opportunities in life as their hearing peers. These interventions, which bring benefit to people and save costs to governments, should be replicated wherever there is a need.”

Prof David Welbourn, Chief Executive of BSHAA, said: “I’m really proud on BSHAA’s behalf to be supporting the campaign for better care and support with hearing.  I’m wearing a pair of demo hearing aids today for World Hearing Day as part of my commitment to appreciate just a small part of the experience of being a hearing aid user.”

There is more information and World Hearing Day resources HERE

BSHAA has a free World Hearing Day webinar on the evening of Thursday 2 March with Dr Shelly Chadha from WHO. Hear first-hand about this year’s global awareness day. More information HERE

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Huge cost of hidden hearing loss in the spotlight on World Hearing Day