UKZN’s Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Department commemorated World Hearing Day on 3 March under the hashtag #WHD_SouthAfrica.
The day started with a 5km awareness walk/run/ride along the Durban beach promenade, followed by the distribution of World Health Organization (WHO) ear and hearing care material in English and isiZulu to the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH) ENT clinic. Together with the UKZN Audiology Department, clinic staff attended an online webinar with provincial colleagues in Ear and Hearing Care. In partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health (DoH), the ENT Department created an ear and hearing care quiz which is hosted by the DOH on their website: www.kznhealth.gov.za/whd-2021.htm.
World Hearing Day is observed each year to raise awareness of this invisible and far-reaching epidemic. This year marked a global milestone with the launch of the World Report on Hearing (WRH). The WRH is an influential multinational stakeholder initiative led by the WHO’s World Hearing Forum. In partnership with the WHO, a group of South African stakeholders has been leading a number of activities to observe this important event and raise awareness on hearing loss and ear and hearing services in the country.
Disabling hearing loss affects half a billion people globally. In South Africa more than four million people are living with hearing loss. Sixty percent of childhood hearing loss can be prevented through several interventions including but not limited to, timeously managing and preventing ear infections and immunising children against infections that can cause hearing loss. Noise exposure, the second most important risk for adult hearing loss, is entirely preventable through safe listening to music and hearing protection in work environments. Social stigma, late diagnosis and intervention, and a lack of support often leave people with hearing loss feeling isolated in a world that may not value or include them. Issues such as unequal education, a lack of access to supportive technologies, and limited access to language support mean that people with hearing loss remain one of the most marginalised and under-served populations in South Africa.
KwaZulu-Natal’s population of 11 million is serviced by approximately 115 Audiologists and fewer than 15 Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeons in the public sector. Chief Specialist for Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Andile Sibiya is passionate about hearing health and improving access to care. ‘Through co-ordinated efforts between the Disciplines of Audiology and ENT, we are committed to radically reducing the burden of hearing loss in the province. This requires co-ordinated strategic investment across the spectrum of care for people living with hearing loss – from screening and rehabilitation to medical and surgical intervention. In addition to public awareness campaigns, we are committed to training more specialists and rolling-out an Auditory Implant Programme for the province. This will significantly increase access to appropriate care for those in KwaZulu-Natal,’ she said.
The Ear and Hearing Care stakeholders in collaboration with the WHO Collaborating Centre for Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss at the University of Pretoria, have issued the following Calls to Action to align with the theme of World Hearing Day, Hearing Care for ALL! Screen. Rehabilitate. Communicate.
• The number of people living with unaddressed hearing loss and ear diseases is increasing. Timely action is needed to prevent and address hearing loss across the life course.
• Universal Newborn Hearing Screening needs to be implemented so that babies are identified early. The earlier hearing loss is detected, the better the outcomes in language, social, emotional and educational development.
• Noise is a leading cause of hearing loss that is entirely preventable. Occupational and recreational noise exposure needs to be addressed.
• Hearing loss is the #1 modifiable risk factor in mid-life for dementia in later life.
• Investing in cost effective interventions will benefit people with hearing loss and bring financial gains to society.
• Integrate person-centred ear and hearing care within national health plans for universal health coverage.
• Integrate family-centred ear and hearing care for children within national health plans for universal health coverage.
• Hearing technology needs to be included in health budgets and made accessible to all in need.
• Capacity building in educational facilities so that equal education is offered to children as early as possible. This would, in turn, afford equal opportunities later in life for employment and reduce the burden on social grants.
• Increased capacity is needed to optimise the workforce for Ear and Hearing Care. Government needs to increase the number of paid posts (audiology, ENT, speech and language, early intervention, family support) so that care can be rendered to those in need.
• Communication is important in all stages of life and is a human right. It is linked to a sense of belonging, an important factor in emotional and mental well-being. Communication is optimised for people with hearing loss when there is early identification and intervention.
• Support families in learning to communicate with children who have a hearing loss.
• Communication access should be optimised across media platforms, news networks, educational settings and in work environments to facilitate full inclusion of those with a hearing loss. This includes captioning and South African Sign Language interpreters where appropriate.
Together we can make a difference for healthy hearing and create a community inclusive of those who experience life differently, where they feel that they belong and are valued as equal members of society.
Words: Lihle Sosibo