Message of the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, on World Hearing Day 2016

By World Health Organization (WHO) - Ethiopia

Today, 3 March 2016, we join the world in observing World Hearing Day to raise awareness about the need to prevent and control hearing loss particularly among children. The theme for this year's commemoration is: “Childhood hearing loss: act now; here is how!”.

Around 360 million people — 5% of the world's population — live with disabling hearing loss, and nearly 32 million of them are children. The vast majority of affected children live in low- and middle-income countries. In the African Region, it is estimated that 4.5% of the entire population and 1.9% of children live with this disability. Hearing loss is a barrier to education and social integration. In low-resource settings in which a child would already be at risk of injury, hearing loss can also represent an additional and crucial element of vulnerability. Furthermore, in a broader context, untreated hearing loss can affect the social and economic development of entire communities and countries. WHO estimates that 75% of hearing loss in children under 15 years of age in low- and middle-income countries is preventable. Over 30% of childhood hearing loss is caused by diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, and ear infections. Another 17% of childhood hearing loss results from complications at birth, including prematurity, low birth weight, birth asphyxia and neonatal jaundice. Clear interventions are available to reduce childhood hearing loss: prevention is crucial through strengthened immunization programmes, improvement of dissemination of good hygiene practices, provision of stronger maternal and child health services including advocating for the reduction in the use of ototoxic medicines in expectant mothers and newborns. In affected children, early detection through screening programmes for hearing and the availability of timely and appropriate interventions as well as the provision of rehabilitation services can dramatically minimize the adverse impact of the disability and facilitate a normal education and social development. Crucial achievements are possible in this area through recognition and visibility of the problem, shared responsibility and solidarity of African governments and partners, provision of accessible services to people in need. As we commemorate World Hearing Day, I call on all countries and partners to sustain and strengthen the solidarity towards the fight against childhood hearing loss in the African Region. This means: filling major gaps in data collection to be used for advocacy, resource allocation and adequate planning; enhancing prevention and early detection; offering accessible services for treatment and rehabilitation to all children living with hearing loss and ensuring that no one is left behind.