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WHO releases new guidance on hearing aid

by Haruna Gimba
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By Muhammad Amaan

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released new technical guidance on hearing aid service delivery approaches for low- and middle-income settings.

WHO said in a statement on Friday ahead of the World Hearing Day to be marked on March 3.

It said the document was designed to provide practical guidance to countries in developing hearing aid services in areas that lack human resources for assessing hearing also as fitting and maintaining hearing aids.

“The guidance, developed with support from the ATScale Global Partnership for Assistive Technology, is based on the principle of task sharing among specialists and trained non-specialists.

“It includes two approaches, one targeting adults, with the other for children five years and over, and is accompanied by resources with tips for healthy ear care practices.

“It’s also use of hearing aids and how to support people living with hearing loss,” it said.

Also, Dr Bente Mikkelsen, WHO Director for the Department for Noncommunicable Diseases said that over 400 million people with hearing loss could benefit from using hearing devices.

Mikkelsen said that however, less than 20 per cent of these needs are fulfilled.

“Unaddressed hearing loss is a global public health challenge and incurs an estimated cost of over 1trillion dollars annually.

“Given the global shortage of ear and hearing care specialists, we have to rethink how we traditionally deliver services,” she said.

According to her, the release of the new guide coincides with World Hearing Day. The theme for 2024 is ‘Changing mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all’.

She said that it would highlight the importance of correcting misconceptions of hearing loss that are common among the general public and primary health providers.

Mikkelsen said the first of two key challenges in ear and hearing care is the lack of health system capacity for the provision of integrated ear and hearing care throughout people’s lives.

“As evidenced by a lack of policies, human resources and dedicated finances,” she said.

According to her, the service delivery approaches detailed by WHO aim to overcome this challenge by better utilising non-specialists in providing hearing care to increase capacity.

“The second key challenge relates to misperceptions and stigmatising mind-sets about hearing loss and ear diseases, which are deeply ingrained within societies and often limit the success of efforts to improve hearing care.

“Common misperceptions include the idea that hearing loss is an inevitable part of old age and those hearing aids do not work well or are too expensive,” she said.

Dr Shelly Chadha, Technical Lead for Ear and Hearing care at WHO said that common myths about hearing loss often prevent people from seeking the services they require, even where these services are available.

“Common myths about hearing loss often prevent people from seeking the services they require, even where these services are available

“Any effort to improve hearing care provision through health system strengthening must be accompanied by work to raise awareness within societies and address stigma related to ear and hearing care,” she said.

According to her, the misperceptions are also prevalent among primary health care providers who may consider this to be a ‘specialised’ or ‘difficult to provide’ service.

“Resulting in failure to identify and treat even those conditions that do not need specialist care,” she said.

Chadha said that changing mindsets related to ear and hearing care was crucial for improving access and mitigating the cost of unaddressed hearing loss.

She said that to address common myths and misperceptions, WHO have released a number of information products and resources to raise public awareness.

“A fact sheet for health professionals provides a clear rationale and directions for engagement of primary level service providers in hearing care provision.

“Governments should take steps to integrate ear and hearing care within primary health care, implement community-based approaches that bring services close to people and lead initiatives to raise awareness and mitigate stigma related to hearing loss.

“Health care providers must also play their role by ensuring they give due attention and care to people with common ear and hearing problems.

“Civil society groups, parents, teachers, and physicians can use WHO’s awareness materials and community resources to inform people about the importance of ear and hearing care,” Chadha said

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