WHO Medical Director Shelly Chadha on the first ever World Report on Hearing

By Judith Vonberg

March 3 is World Hearing Day, a day to raise awareness about hearing loss and prevention. 

This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published the first ever World Report on Hearing. It reveals that an estimated 430 million people live with disabling hearing loss, a number that could reach 700 million by 2050. 

Along with recommendations for policy makers, aimed at ensuring global access to high-quality hearing care, the report highlights the importance of a person-centered approach to determining an individual’s hearing care and rehabilitation needs, which we at Ida welcome wholeheartedly.

We spoke to Shelly Chadha, a WHO Medical Director and one of the report's authors, to get her perspective on this pioneering publication and the value of person-centered hearing care. 

What is the aim of the World Report on Hearing? What difference can the report make?

The World Report on Hearing was requested by the World Health Assembly in 2017. It aims to motivate political action and drive policy formulation for promotion of ear and hearing care globally.

Based on the latest evidence, the report will serve as an advocacy and guidance document. It captures the current and growing needs for ear and hearing care, and provides direction on the way forward for ensuring equitable access to quality services.

The report contributes with new knowledge about the occurrence of hearing loss around the world and the cost of untreated hearing loss. Which findings stand out the most to you?

Perhaps the most significant finding of the report is the cost and benefit of integrating a package of ear and hearing care interventions into national health systems. 

It’s estimated that scaling up ear and hearing care by 2030 will require an additional investment of US$1.33 per capita per annum. Over ten years, this is likely to benefit more than 1.4 billion people and bring a return of US$16 for every dollar invested.

The report states that addressing hearing loss requires a “person-centered approach”. In your view, is person-centered care an important aspect of future hearing care? Why was it important to include this term in the text?

A person-centered approach is one that takes a holistic overview of an individual’s clinical profile, communication needs, preferences, and environment, and fits the resources available. 

This is important because the impact of hearing loss depends not only on the clinical or audiological profile, but also on contextual factors such as communication needs, environmental factors, and access to rehabilitation. 

Adopting such an approach is essential to determining the care and rehabilitation needs of a person and addressing these in a fruitful way. 

A person-centered approach is important to ensure that people don’t just receive care, but they also benefit from this care, based on their unique context.

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Should hearing loss be treated as a priority health issue? 

A WHO Member States survey from June 2020 showed that COVID-19 has significantly impacted health services for various noncommunicable diseases and conditions. Nearly 3/4 of the responding countries reported disruption in rehabilitation services. At the same time, in many places, innovative strategies have helped overcome the challenges of the current situation. 

Even as governments intensify efforts to control the pandemic, it is important to ensure that people do not face unintended adverse impacts of the pandemic and that they receive services for various acute or chronic conditions, including hearing loss. 

Now that the World Report on Hearing has been published, what are the next steps? 

Following the release of the report, the WHO will be working with its regional and country offices to support Member States in the implementation of its recommendations.

In the coming months, a number of regional and national-level policy events are planned in different parts of the world. These events will provide an opportunity for the WHO to work with Member States to plan for the implementation of these recommendations based on the local context.

Read the first ever World Report on Hearing.

Find out more about World Hearing Day.

Image: Shelly Chadha, WSIS 2016 - Day 1, by ITU Pictures (Creative Commons)