Hearing loss is a pressing global health concern, and the Asia Pacific region is no exception.
As we look toward the future, it is crucial to address the need for increased awareness of hearing health, expanded access to hearing solutions, and the importance of affordability.
Finding a way to address these issues will create a society where hearing health is valued, understood, and accessible to all.
While some health issues may have been previously under discussed or less prevalent in public and media discussions, they have gradually gained more awareness and attention due to various factors such as changes in disease prevalence, advancements in medical research, or the impact of global events.
Take Covid-19 for example. While infectious diseases have always been a concern in the region, the pandemic brought unprecedented attention to the importance of pandemic preparedness and global health cooperation.
Globalisation and rapid industrialisation in the region have also propelled discussions on air pollution and environmental health.
Amidst these various health issues that have gradually gained more awareness and attention, hearing loss is still waiting for its time to take the spotlight.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2050, one in four people around the world will be affected by hearing loss. In the Asia Pacific region, millions of individuals are grappling with various degrees of hearing impairment which significantly impacts their lives, education, and economic prospects.
Closer to home, a 2019 study revealed that almost two million Malaysians suffer from hearing loss. This calls for immediate attention and action.
To make a substantial impact, Malaysia must prioritise hearing health as a public health agenda. Despite the profound impact on an individual’s quality of life, it is unfortunate that hearing health is often overshadowed by other well-discussed health issues.
The government at both federal and state levels, policymakers, health care organisations, and communities must come together to address this issue comprehensively and ensure it resonates louder in the public discourse.
The Triple-A Approach
Raising awareness is a critical first step in tackling hearing loss. Educational campaigns and public health initiatives can help debunk common misconceptions surrounding hearing health and promote early detection and intervention.
By engaging schools, workplaces, and community centres, we can foster a culture that values and understands the importance of maintaining good hearing health throughout one’s life.
Expanding access to hearing solutions is equally crucial. Many individuals with hearing loss face barriers in obtaining affordable and quality hearing aids and services.
To bridge this gap, governments should work towards providing subsidies and financial assistance programs to ensure that hearing aids are accessible to all, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Additionally, partnerships with NGOs, private companies, and philanthropic organizations can help establish hearing care centres in underserved areas, providing much-needed services to remote communities.
There are already many examples within the optometry industry of nomadic vans equipped with medical stations that bring eye care to faraway communities that are disconnected from main cities in the region.
A similar approach to bring hearing care on the road will be very beneficial to bring essential hearing health services to remote areas, improving the lives of those who might have been previously left unheard.
By adopting a mobile hearing care initiative, we can ensure that everyone, regardless of their location, has access to the hearing solutions they need for a better quality of life.
Affordability remains a significant obstacle for those seeking hearing solutions. The financial burden associated with hearing loss can be overwhelming for individuals and their families.
To address this issue, there is a need for deeper collaboration between the government and industry stakeholders to explore innovative pricing models and reimbursement strategies.
Introducing insurance coverage for hearing aids and related services can significantly alleviate the financial burden and improve access to quality care. Another approach is to further expand hearing aid grants and subsidies for the underprivileged.
Empowering hearing care professionals is crucial in ensuring quality hearing healthcare delivery. Investing in training and education programs for health care providers will enhance their knowledge and skills in addressing hearing health effectively.
The government should prioritise the development of audiology programmes, promote research advancements, and support continuous professional development opportunities for hearing care professionals.
By nurturing a skilled workforce, we can improve the quality and accessibility of hearing care services across the region.
Technology And Research Remain Key
Furthermore, technology and innovation play a pivotal role in revolutionizing hearing healthcare.
The government and industry stakeholders should foster collaborations to drive research and development efforts, promoting the creation of affordable and cutting-edge hearing solutions.
This includes the development of tele-audiology services, remote monitoring capabilities, and artificial intelligence-driven tools that enhance accessibility and improve the overall hearing care experience.
A great example of this endeavour in Asia Pacific comes from Australia, where the National Acoustic Laboratories has embarked on multiple research projects to tackle issues such as awareness and accessibility, and have recently worked on applying machine learning to enhance hearing health technology.
Working Together For Better Hearing In Malaysia
To make a lasting impact, it is crucial for Malaysia to adopt a multi-dimensional approach. The government, health care organisations, industry leaders, and communities must collaborate, share best practices, and align their efforts to create a comprehensive and sustainable hearing health ecosystem that is integrated into broader public health agendas.
According to the Social Welfare Department’s 2018 annual report, hearing aids emerge as pivotal assistive devices, touching the lives of over 44,500 individuals grappling with hearing impairment, a figure that speaks of its profound significance in the nation.
Malaysia has a responsibility to prioritise hearing health and take immediate action to address the growing challenges posed by hearing loss. Recent revelations have reinforced this concern.
A staggering 40,743 registered hearing-impaired individuals, encompassing both adults and children, stood testament to the pressing nature of this issue as of December 2021. This data paints a vivid portrait of the imperative for decisive action.
Moreover, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) laid bare a sobering statistic in 2019: a total of 5,699 cases of occupational diseases were reported, and disconcertingly, more than half of these cases stemmed from occupational-induced hearing loss.
This underscores the need for comprehensive measures to safeguard the auditory well-being of our workforce, an imperative that resonates far beyond Malaysia’s borders.
By raising awareness, expanding access to hearing solutions, and ensuring affordability, we can empower individuals with hearing loss to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to the social and economic fabric of our communities especially in a fast-developing country like Malaysia.
We must seize this opportunity to create a future where everyone can enjoy the benefits of better hearing, and where hearing health is valued, protected, and accessible to all.
Olivier Chupin is regional president, Asia Pacific, at WS Audiology.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.