Expert urges govts to address hearing aid affordability crisis

Expert urges govts to address hearing aid affordability crisis

Honorary Professor Andrew Smith says govt funding for public health programmes to distribute hearing aids to the underprivileged needed

Hyderabad: As new technologies remain costly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to promote large-scale production of affordable, high-quality hearing aids. Public health intervention programmes related to hearing loss have to be scaled up for the benefit to reach people from lower income group, says an health expert.

Andrew Smith, Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s International Centre for Evidence in Disability, recently spoke at a training workshop on Public Health Planning for Hearing Impairment organized by the Hyderabad-based Pragyaan Sustainable Health Outcomes (PRASHO) Foundation. “Despite the World Health Assembly’s resolution, which India and other governments have signed, prioritising the prevention of hearing loss through affordable, high-quality hearing aids, many governments have yet to act on this commitment,” Smith told Bizz Buzz.

According to him, manufacturers should shift their business model to high volume and low cost production to bring down the cost of hearing aids. This should be followed by introduction of public health intervention programmes, funded by local government authorities, rolling out large number of hearing aids for people with hearing impairment from lower income.

“Right now, manufacturers have adopted low volume high cost business model for manufacturing hearing aids. Their products are aimed for wealthy customers. But they should understand that there is a huge market out there which they have not targeted. If the government assures manufacturers to buy these hearing aids in bulk, this will bring down the manufacturing cost and the selling price,” Smith points out.

Suggesting scope for advancement in development of technology for hearing aids, Smith says that hearing aids should be made more responsive to a person’s hearing loss while in the past these aids amplified all incoming sounds.

“Now what is needed is that the aid should be programmed depending upon the configuration of hearing loss. That means, the aid should amplify only frequencies which the person cannot hear to give them better hearing experience,” he suggested. Citing a WHO report, Smith said that 430 million people globally experience moderate hearing loss, one billion have mild hearing loss, and over a billion teenagers, young adults are at risk of developing social noise induced hearing loss due to listening loud music for longer hours through earphones.

Smith informed that WHO is working with American technology company, Apple for developing an application that indicates when the sound level has crossed the safe decibel limit. He concluded by highlighting that as 5.50 per cent of the population is facing hearing impairment, it has been categorised as public health emergency by WHO, which terms any condition with frequency of problems greater than four per cent as an emergency.

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