Hearing Impairment in Developing Countries

The World Health Organisation estimates that a staggering 50% of hearing impairment can be prevented.

Hearing impairment can have disastrous impact on the development of speech, communication, learning and social integration. Appropriate intervention is essential for children to have a chance in life. Without auditory rehabilitation, hearing impaired and deaf children in developing countries are routinely abandoned.

In developing countries, millions of hearing impaired children do not have hearing aids or rehabilitation support. In contrast, Australian children with hearing loss receive complete rehabilitation support, including free hearing aids. In 1995, the World Health Organisation estimated that there were at least 120 million people in the world with a disabling hearing impairment of which 78 million were in developing countries.

This report also showed that in South-East Asia, 25 million people were estimated to have a disabling hearing impairment, of which approximately 2.5 million were children aged under 18 years.

Hearing Services in Developing Countries

The burden of deafness and hearing impairment is estimated to be almost twice as large in developing countries, as available services are almost non-existent.

In most developing countries, audiology has been established as a profession, however, clinical services often only serve small areas and government funding for hearing services is limited. The lack of epidemiological research on the extent of hearing impairment makes it difficult to develop strategies and programs on a national level.

Audiology services understandably become a lower priority for countries which are struggling to provide the basic requirements of health in order to avoid life threatening consequences. The result is that in most developing countries audiology services are inaccessible to a large proportion of the population. This gap can only be filled by audiologists volunteering these services to these countries.

Barriers to Establishing Hearing Services

Cultural views of hearing impairment and disability will affect the importance the community and government place on treatment and rehabilitation programs. Attitudes toward deafness and hearing impairment are influenced by the socio-economic conditions, lack of understanding about the nature of the disability and beliefs about the origin of the disability.

Other contributing factors include political barriers, lack of trained personnel, inadequate health education, insufficient research on communication disorders in developing countries and a lack of local and culturally valid assessment procedures.