How often have you, or someone you know, complained about hearing loss and the inability (or unwillingness) to get treatment? You may cite reasons ranging from valid (expense) to trivial ones (hearing aids make you look old).
But here's a thought: next time you talk about hearing loss and hearing aids, remember how lucky you are to be living in a country where highly effective, state-of-the-art technology is available and accessible to people with a hearing loss.
Don't take this for granted, because in much of the developing world even the simplest and most rudimentary hearing aids remain out of reach of millions of people.
And this is where hearing advocacy groups, including a new one called the Coalition for Global Hearing Health (CGHH), are trying to bring tangible relief to these disadvantaged men, women and children.
300 Million and Counting
Before we talk about the CGHH's upcoming conference, let's look at the dire situation of hearing health in developing countries.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 300 million people worldwide, including 78 million children, suffer from moderate to profound hearing loss. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these people live in low-income countries, where there is shortage of food, water, and basic health care, so it is no wonder they can't afford the same treatment options that are available to people with hearing loss in the West.
WHO attributes hearing loss in low-income countries mainly to infectious diseases such as meningitis, measles, mumps and chronic ear infections. Other common causes include genetics, exposure to excessive noise, head and ear injury, ageing, poor otitis media care, and the use of ototoxic drugs - medications harmful to the organs of hearing, balance or the auditory nerve.
There is good news and bad news with this picture. The good news, according to WHO, is that as many as half of all cases of deafness and hearing loss are avoidable through prevention, early diagnoses and management.
The bad news is that current production of hearing aids meets less than 10 percent of global need. In developing countries, fewer than 1 out of 40 people who need a hearing aid have one.
And that's why organizations such as the Coalition for Global Hearing Health are critical in raising awareness of this global crisis and bringing about a much-needed change.
CGHH's goals are simple and complex at the same time: to help those serving the needs of the developing and underserved populations "advocate for policies pertinent to hearing health practices in a humanitarian capacity; equip and empower hearing health care professionals, families, educators, communities, and those who have ear / hearing difficulties; and encourage and perpetuate best practices."
On June 14 and 15, the CGHH, which counts among its members humanitarian audiologists, otorhinolaryngologists, and other hearing health professionals, will hold its first conference at the headquarters of the American Academy of Otolaryngology / Head and Neck Surgery Foundation In Washington D.C.
On the conference's ambitious agenda will be topics such as "Epidemiology: What We Know and What We Don't Know;" "Technology: Harness What We Have, Get Ready for What's Next;" "Local Support and Sustainability;" Strategies, Ethics and Social Awareness;" and "The Sound of Hope: Making Hearing Matter in the Developing World." Each of these topics will be covered by presentations given by various hearing health professionals and advocates and include such all-important subjects as newborn hearing screening in developing countries, dispensing low-cost hearing aids and cochlear implants in the needy regions, ethics of hearing health care in the developing nations, preventing deafness through vaccination programs, and many others.
Considering that so many people around the world lack access to hearing health care, individuals and organizations like CGHH that are actively promoting and supporting an equitable global hearing health policy, prevention of hearing loss, and rehabilitation programs, are making a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of millions.