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World’s Health Ministers Adopt Resolution on the Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss

“Too many people are suffering unnecessarily from hearing loss. Unless action is taken, the numbers will continue to rise as populations age and young people continue to engage in listening practices which are harmful to their hearing. It is urgent to take action.”

The 70th World Health Assembly adopted a new resolution on the prevention of deafness and hearing loss. 20 Member States, several commenting on behalf of many other Member States in their respective regions, and NGOs including CBM and the International Society of Audiology, commented favourably on the resolution during the discussion.

Approximately 360 million people live with disabling hearing loss including 32 million children. Hearing loss prevalence is increasing globally due to the growth in population of older adults, one third of whom have hearing loss; the continued high prevalence of chronic ear diseases; and the increasing practice of listening at high volume to unsafe levels of sound for prolonged periods, putting the hearing of over one billion young people (aged 12-35 years) at risk, among other causes.

Overall it is estimated that around half of hearing loss can be prevented through such measures as immunizing against childhood diseases; preventing infections; promoting safe childbirth; avoiding the use of certain drugs; and reducing exposure to loud sounds. In addition those who have hearing loss can benefit greatly from timely and appropriate interventions, including the use of hearing aids, cochlear implants and other assistive devices; captioning and sign language; and other forms of educational and social support. Despite this, those in need are often unable to access such services. As such unaddressed hearing loss continues to have a high impact on individuals and societies, with an annual global cost of $750 billion annually.

“Too many people are suffering unnecessarily from hearing loss,” says Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department for the Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention. “Unless action is taken, the numbers will continue to rise as populations age and young people continue to engage in listening practices which are harmful to their hearing. It is urgent to take action. Fortunately, we have in hand a range of effective and cost-effective tools to prevent, detect and treat hearing loss.”

Through the resolution, Member States are urged to integrate strategies for ear and hearing care within the framework of their primary health care systems; establish training programmes for the development of human resources in the field; implement screening programmes for early identification; make high-quality, affordable hearing devices accessible to all who need them; and implement regulations for the control of noise in various settings.

The resolution requests the WHO Director-General to prepare a world report on ear and hearing care; develop a toolkit and provide technical support to Member States on the above; support development of safe listening standards; and undertake advocacy through World Hearing Day, which is held annually on 3 March. The resolution also requests WHO to report on progress in implementation of this resolution to the 72nd World Health Assembly.