By Paige Stringer
Hearing loss is a significant global issue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are about 466 million people, or 5% of the world’s population, who have a degree of hearing loss that impacts their daily life and ability to engage with other people. More than 34 million of those affected are children and hearing loss is one of the most common birth anomalies.
Unfortunately, there is in general, a low awareness and understanding among governments and society at large about the social and economic impact of untreated hearing loss on the individual, family, and community. This has contributed to a worldwide disparity between preventative treatments and intervention solutions that already exist to address hearing loss and their accessibility to people who would most benefit from them. The WHO indicates that just 44 of the 195 countries of the world feature ear and hearing care in their national health plans, and some of those programs and policies may not be well supported.
For children, hearing loss can have an irreversible and permanent impact on their cognitive, language, and social development if it is not addressed with urgency during their formative years. A child’s brain undergoes tremendous growth in the first years of life. Identification of hearing loss as early as possible is essential to enable timely interventions to mitigate its effects. For families who wish for their child with hearing loss to learn to listen and talk, the child must also be provided with hearing technology (hearing aids or cochlear implants) to enable access to the sounds of speech. With the support of professionals in audiology and auditory-verbal practice, families can help their children begin to make sense of sounds they are now hearing through technology and progress through the developmental sequence through which all children evolve to enable listening and spoken language.