11 July 2001
WHO CALLS ON PRIVATE SECTOR TO PROVIDE AFFORDABLE HEARING AIDS IN DEVELOPING WORLD
250 Million People in the World affected by Hearing Loss
25-fold decrease in hearing aid prices in developing countries possible
Hearing aid manufacturers, service providers and donors will come together for a meeting in Geneva, on 11-12 July, to evaluate the possibility of private-public partnerships to provide affordable hearing aids in developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO), convenor of the meeting, will launch its new guidelines on hearing aids and services for developing countries at the same time.
The current cost of appropriate hearing aids in developing countries ranges from US$200 to over US$500. "These prices are prohibitive for the majority of people living in these countries," said Dr Derek Yach, Executive Director for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO. "What we would like to do for these people is see the price there come down to US$10-20 per hearing aid."
It is estimated that there are currently 250 million people world-wide with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids. Two thirds of these are in developing countries. Current annual production of hearing aids is thought to be less than 10% of global needs and less than one out of every forty hearing aids needed in developing countries actually goes there.
"In addition to the shortages and high prices, there is a huge lack of services in developing countries to fit hearing aids and ear moulds correctly and very few trained personnel," said Dr Yach. The guidelines WHO will issue at the July meeting provide detailed requirements for the manufacture of affordable and appropriate hearing aids, the provision of services, and the training of personnel in developing countries.
Although hearing loss is generally associated particularly with ageing, people in the developing world are more susceptible to this problem at a young age. Middle-ear infection, from which many children suffer, can cause long-term hearing loss if not treated. Meningitis, common in West Africa, and other infections will also impair hearing. Ototoxic drugs (drugs that damage hearing, such as certain antibiotics) are a problem in some areas and noise-induced hearing loss is increasing in many developing countries. Hearing problems can also be inherited. Most sectors of developing country populations do not have access to preventive interventions or treatment for these conditions, and are therefore likely to have hearing loss. When it starts in childhood it can lead to life-long disability.
In society as a whole the burden of hearing loss leads to huge economic costs. A recent study from the US suggests that the cost of communication disorders in that country (due to rehabilitation, special education and loss of employment) is almost 3% of the gross national product. Hearing loss in adults affects their ability to obtain, perform and keep a job. Throughout the life course hearing loss causes people to be isolated and stigmatized.
In children, hearing loss affects language formation and cognitive and social development. In developing countries, where there is a strong need for trained people to increase productivity, this impairment can affect the development of entire communities.
WHO is already addressing the problem by encouraging developing countries to perform population surveys of hearing loss and needs. It is also developing tools for preventing major causes of avoidable hearing loss (for example chronic middle ear disease, excessive noise and improper use of ototoxic drugs), and for training for ear and hearing care at the primary level of health care.
For further information, journalists can contact Ms Daniela Bagozzi, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 45 44; Fax (+41 22) 791 4858; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int/