While 360 million people (over 5 percent of the world’s population) experience disabling hearing loss, this number is unevenly dispersed across the globe. Not surprisingly, the areas with the highest amount of hearing loss cases are among the poorest in the world. For example, poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Angola, the Congo Equatorial Guinea make up 9 percent of world hearing loss cases. Similarly, developing nations in South Asia such as India, Nepal and Pakistan make up a staggering 27 percent of disabling hearing loss cases.
Deafness in children is a significant problem in impoverished nations. Nearly two-thirds of the 62 million children dealing with deafness live in developing countries. Due to the lack of health records in many of these areas, the reason for childhood deafness is not always known. However, most experts report that lack of prenatal care and access to vaccinations, untreated ear infections and the overuse of ototoxic drugs (such as those used to treat malaria) are to blame for a large majority of childhood deafness.
Noise pollution is another significant cause of child and adult hearing loss in developing countries. Urban areas in poorer countries tend to be even more compact than those of higher income nations, resulting in a great deal of noise pollution. The WHO reported that someone who lives in a city may experience a “hearing age” of 10-20 years older than their current age. Even so, there was a marked difference in the cities surveyed.
Vienna, Austria (named the world’s most liveable city 9 years running) had an average “hearing age” of 10 years older. By contrast, Delhi, India—a city where half its people live and work in compact slums—reported an average “hearing age” of 20 years older.
The impact of hearing loss in developing countries is significant, especially for children. Children with hearing disabilities are less likely to receive a quality education, with 90 percent not attending school at all. With a quarter of all hearing loss cases starting in childhood, this results in many children missing out on education that could set them up for a financially healthy future.
Without educational opportunities, children with hearing disabilities are likely to become adults without stable employment, often leading to a life in poverty. Additionally, many cultures have superstitious beliefs surrounding hearing loss, which could be a hindrance to a deaf individual securing a job. Untreated hearing loss in developing countries can severely impact social and economic progress within communities. With so many deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals out of the workforce, poverty increases and superstitious beliefs are upheld, resulting in a lack of social ties for the hearing-impaired.
Organizations such as the World Health Organization have mobilized efforts to not only make hearing loss a focus of global health policies but prevent it altogether when possible.
In developing countries, only 1 in 40 people in need of a hearing aid actually have one. In 2006, the WHO and World Wide Hearing Care for Developing Countries (WWHearing) came together to provide hearing aids and hearing care to underdeveloped communities. Through this partnership, both organizations made it a mission to prevent hearing loss while providing care to those already affected. WWHearing has been able to screen thousands of children for hearing loss, and they have trained many community members to become hearing aid technicians.
The WHO has also implemented numerous rehabilitation programs in developing communities as a way to encourage inclusion and acceptance of those with hearing loss. This is done to dispel superstitious beliefs surrounding deafness in an effort to strengthen social and community ties and eliminate isolation of deaf individuals.
Hearing loss in developing countries has been steadily gaining the attention of health care organizations around the world. Partnerships are being formed to provide a large-scale supply of hearing aids and hearing tests for hearing-impaired individuals, and many communities are receiving training on audio testing to detect hearing loss early. These actions must continue in order to ensure proper education, community support and a life out of poverty for those with hearing impairments.
– Holli Flanagan