Hearing Loss in Developing CountriesAs of 2018, an estimated 466 million people around the globe suffer from hearing loss. Access to technology and medical care to aid those with hearing loss is rather limited in developing nations. Language barriers, stemming from a lack of sign language interpreters, prevent communication between patients and doctors. By identifying the signs of hearing loss earlier, individuals may have opportunities to receive medical help and progress in their communities. Addressing hearing loss in developing countries through public health measures and advocacy will aid the economy and overall well-being of developing countries.

Causes of Hearing Loss in Developing Countries

The two primary kinds of hearing loss in developing countries are congenital and acquired. Congenital causes can come from a family history of hearing loss, prenatal factors or complications during childbirth. Severe infection during pregnancy often passes onto the baby. Low birth weight, a lack of oxygen during birth, premature birth or preeclampsia are all contributors to hearing loss in newborns.

Acquired causes of hearing loss happen at birth, during childhood or from aging. Old age or exposure to loud noises during one’s lifetime can destroy sensory cells in the ear. Trauma from an accident or even severe, recurring ear infections can also lead to deafness in one or both ears. For example, chronic ear infections in South-East Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa affect up to 46% of their populations. In a study in Brazil involving 70 subjects, the Zika virus caused hearing loss for 7% of the children between 0-10 months.

Effects on Children

Unlike further developed countries, mothers and families are unable to screen their newborns during and after pregnancy. Approximately 34 million children have disabling hearing loss, and the majority of these children suffer socially and emotionally. Without the ability to communicate effectively, these children end up isolated within their homes. They can not receive an education, so in their adult life, they remain illiterate. A lack of education means higher unemployment rates throughout the country.

Some forms of prevention against disease may also put newborns at risk of developing deafness. Around 660,000 out of 219 million people die each year from malaria. Chemoprophylaxis is one of several forms of medication to prevent contracting the illness. Malaria can lead to low birth rate and deafness, but so can antimalaria medication such as Chemoprophylaxis. Other medicines used for infections during pregnancy or tuberculosis can similarly result in deafness for newborn children.

Organizations and Advocacy

Children must be immunized against severe diseases to aid hearing loss in developing countries. Mothers must be encouraged to take medications needed during their pregnancies properly, and earlier screenings on newborns need to be readily available. World Wide Hearing provides affordable hearing aids to countries lacking hearing clinics. With less than 10% of hearing aid distribution worldwide, World Wide Hearing ensures the deaf’s social inclusivity.

Partners for a Greater Voice built a school for the deaf in the Dominican Republic and also provides hearing aids to those with lower incomes. The trained teachers prioritize oral education and thus communicate effectively with students. Grand Challenges Canada pairs with Hearing Access World to distribute hearing loss diagnostic kits, and provide affordable screenings coupled with hearing aids. Along with donations and massive investments, projects involving Audio Techs also refer some patients to doctors that will cater to severe needs.

By preventing disease and providing needed resources, these organizations can limit the detriment of hearing loss in developing countries. Starting with the youth will benefit the economy as more children go to school and have jobs readily available. Age-related hearing loss must be managed through implementing active communication catered towards the deaf. Young or old, the deaf community will attain a better quality of life and socioeconomic confidence with accessible programs.

Sydney Stokes
Photo: Wikimedia Commons