What we can do to help
According to the World Health Organization, there are 466 million people worldwide living with disabling hearing loss. They estimate that by 2050, this number will be over 900 million. Currently among those with disabling hearing loss is 34 million children which is almost equal to the population of Canada. Most of these individuals are living in low and middle income countries where they lack access to basic health care.
It is often highly preventable causes that result in childhood hearing loss. 60% of all cases in children are a result of preventable causes such as meningitis, measles, malaria, and untreated ear infections. The treatment of something as simple as an ear infection is often assumed to be highly manageable, especially to those of us living in high income countries. However, it is important we recognize the significant barriers that a lack of resources can have on treating simple illnesses, which can result in significant health issues in the child’s future.
As a result of disabling hearing loss, children are often socially isolated and stigmatized within their communities and 90% of them do not attend school due to their inability to participate. Many cases of hearing loss go undiagnosed and are interpreted by families and community members as intellectual disabilities. As these children grow into adults, they are often uneducated due to their disability, and therefore less likely to receive employment, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty and the subsequent health outcomes.
In Canada, there are many hearing aids that used to be worn by an individual that are no longer being used. For example, some people have upgraded to a newer hearing aid and discarded older models. Many do not know that they can repurpose their old hearing aids by donating them to someone in need. Instead, hearing aids often get put away on a shelf and forgotten about.
The current production of hearing aids is meeting less than 10% of the global need for them. This is a problem that affects individuals and communities around the world. While only meeting 10% of global need is a shockingly low amount, it is also important to mention that 80% of people who experience hearing loss are living in low and middle income countries. Statistically, they are more likely to experience hearing loss, and they are highly unlikely to have resources to aid them. Another important thing to recognize is that disabling hearing loss in low and middle income countries is not a result of neglect or carelessness of the individual or their family, but it is the social determinants of health – various social barriers to education, resources, etc. - that give rise to this health problem and many others.
Hearing for All (www.hearingforall.ca) is an initiative that I, Emma Logan have started to address this problem by collecting hearing aids that are no longer being used and having them refurbished by partner organizations to be donated to those in need. By providing hearing aids and audiology care to communities in need, we can provide people the opportunity to attend school, get a job, and live a higher quality of life. This builds stronger economies and together we can work towards eliminating preventable hearing loss among children in developing countries.
If you are an individual who wears hearing aids and have one (or more) at home that you do not wear anymore, please consider donating them to us. If you are an organization that sees a high volume of hearing aid users, please consider becoming a collection point for us.
We are writing this article to raise awareness on this topic in hopes that the conversation on disabling hearing loss and how it perpetuates poverty and can result in stigmatization becomes more prevalent in Canadian households.
We understand that repurposing hearing aids is not the only solution to this problem, there are many complex issues that allow for this issue to manifest in low and middle income countries in particular. So, we encourage you to join us in our mission as we take direct action toward eliminating barriers to hearing health care for those in Canada and around the world and continue researching and learning about how we can find solutions to this problem.