Hearing loss has often been referred to as an “invisible disability”, not just because of the lack of visible symptoms, but because it has long been stigmatized in communities and ignored by policy-makers.
Unaddressed hearing loss is the third largest cause of years lived with disability globally. It affects people of all ages, as well as families and economies. An estimated US$ 1 trillion is lost each year due to our collective failure to adequately address hearing loss. While the financial burden is enormous, what cannot be quantified is the distress caused by the loss of communication, education and social interaction that accompanies unaddressed hearing loss.
What makes this matter more pressing than ever is the fact that the number of people with hearing loss is likely to rise considerably in the coming decades. Over 1.5 billion people currently experience some degree of hearing loss, which could grow to 2.5 billion by 2050. In addition, 1.1 billion young people are at risk of permanent hearing loss from listening to music at loud volumes over prolonged periods of time. The World report on hearing shows that evidence-based and cost–effective public health measures can prevent many causes of hearing loss.
To guide future action, the World report on hearing outlines a package of interventions for Member States to adopt, and proposes strategies for their integration in national health systems to ensure equitable access to ear and hearing care services for all those who need them, without financial hardship, in accordance with the principles of universal health coverage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of hearing. As we have struggled to maintain social contact and remain connected to family, friends and colleagues, we have relied on being able to hear them more than ever before. It has also taught us a hard lesson, that health is not a luxury item, but the foundation of social, economic and political development. Preventing and treating disease and disability of all kinds is not a cost, but an investment in a safer, fairer and more prosperous world for all people.
As we respond and recover from the pandemic, we must listen to the lessons it is teaching us, including that we can no longer afford to turn a deaf ear to hearing loss.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General, World Health Organization