One in four people projected to have hearing problems by 2050

March 2, 2021

Nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide ─ or 1 in 4 people ─ will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050, warns the World Health Organization’s (WHO) in its first World Report on Hearing, according to a news release.

At least 700 million of these people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken.

"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," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, WHO Director-General. “

The report, launched ahead of World Hearing Day on 3 March, underlines the need to rapidly increase efforts to prevent and address hearing loss by investing and expanding access to ear and hearing care services. Investment in ear and hearing care has been shown to be cost-effective: WHO calculates that governments can expect a return of nearly $16 for every $1 invested.

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.

But the most glaring gap in health system capacity is in human resources. Among low-income countries, about 78 percent have fewer than one ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist per million population; 93 percent have fewer than one audiologist per million; only 17 percent have one or more speech therapist per million; and 50 percent have one or more teacher for the deaf per million.

In children, almost 60 percent of hearing loss can be prevented through measures, such as immunization for prevention of rubella and meningitis, improved maternal and neonatal care, and screening for, and early management of, otitis media 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.

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