Promoting global action on hearing loss: World hearing day

The need for global action on  hearing loss

It is estimated that over 5% of  the world’s population experience disabling hearing loss1 (World Health Organization, 2012; Olusanya et al,  2014). Studies suggest that if we include mild and unilateral hearing loss in  this estimation, over 20% of the world’s adult population would have some  degree of hearing loss (Stevens et al, 2011), making it the most common sensory  impairment among humans. Given our dependence on communication, the reduction  or loss of hearing has a significant impact on an individual’s life including  language development, cognition, education, employment and economic and  psychosocial well-being (Yoshinaga-Itano et al, 1998; Karchmer & Allen,  1999; Bess et al, 2011; Fellinger et al, 2012; Olusanya et al, 2014).

The fact that the prevalence and  impact of hearing loss can be mitigated through public health actions is well  known. Recent estimates suggest that nearly 60% of hearing loss among children  can be prevented through public health measures (World Health Organization,  2016a). For those who develop hearing loss, early diagnosis and suitable  interventions go a long way in improving outcomes. Despite this, only a few  countries, predominantly in the high-income group, have implemented strategic  plans to address hearing loss (World Health Organization, 2013). The growing  need for hearing care and lack of policies to address it poses a public health  challenge (Olusanya & Newton, 2007) requiring coordinated, comprehensive  action to drive policy formulation, seek financial resources, and enhance  hearing care accessibility (Olusanya et al, 2014).

Taking cognisance of these  facts, World Health Organization (WHO) organised a Stakeholders’ Consultation  on prevention of deafness and hearing loss at its headquarters in Geneva,  Switzerland in July 2016 (World Health Organization, 2016b). Professionals in  the field of ear and hearing, international professional associations,  nongovernmental organisations, civil society groups, academic institutions and  manufacturers of hearing devices came together to propose actions for promoting  global access to ear and hearing care. One of the key discussion points during  this meeting was the need for a coordinated global advocacy effort to prioritise  ear and hearing care.

Advocacy for hearing loss through  world hearing day

The first step in translating  knowledge and research into action is to raise awareness through evidence-based  advocacy (Friedlaender & Winston, 2004). In its programme for prevention  and control of deafness and hearing loss, WHO has highlighted evidence-based  advocacy as one of its programme objectives, along with development of  technical tools and implementation of national strategies for hearing care  (World Health Organization, 2016c). Over the past few years, WHO prevention and  control of deafness and hearing loss has focussed its advocacy efforts around  the World Hearing Day. World Hearing Day is observed annually on 3rd March with  the primary aim of raising awareness about different aspects of hearing loss  amongst all people, including policy makers, health care professionals,  developmental agencies, and civil society (World Health Organization, 2016d).

Since 2001, 3rd March was  observed as National Ear Care Day in China. In 2007, it was established as  International Ear Care Day during the First International Conference on  Prevention and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impairment (World Health Organization,  2015a). Interestingly, the rationale for selecting this date was that the  number 3.3 represents the shape of two ears. In 2015, the name was changed to  World Hearing Day, to focus more on the function rather than the organ (ear) of  hearing.

Each year, WHO identifies one  aspect of ear and hearing care, which should be highlighted as the advocacy  theme. Evidencebased key messages are developed to support the theme and  accompanied by a package of information products. Such a package may include  posters, banners, brochures, pamphlets, infographics, videos, or other  materials, often in multiple languages. These are used by groups,  organisations, and individuals around the world to plan activities ranging from  community-based actions to high-level advocacy. Awareness sessions, screening  programmes, provision of hearing devices, walks and runs to advocate for  hearing, strategic planning work-shops, and launches of national  strategies/programmes are some examples of such activities that have been  undertaken in the past (World Health Organization, 2014, 2015b, 2016e).

ISSN 1499-2027 print/ISSN  1708-8186 online _ 2017 British Society of  Audiology, International Society of Audiology, and Nordic Audiological Society
DOI:  10.1080/14992027.2017.1291264

WHO also organises activities at  its headquarters in Geneva including media coverage. Through Facebook, Twitter,  and Google Plus, a social media campaign is launched by WHO around the day to  take the messages on hearing loss to an ever-increasing number of people.

Over the past few years, many  organisations, civil society groups and opinion leaders have joined this social  media campaign. Last year saw the participation of a number of leading rock  bands and rock stars, who tweeted WHO’s messages on World Hearing Day and  promoted safe listening among their fans.

World hearing day themes

Since 2013, WHO has been  promoting World Hearing Day with a theme, to emphasise different aspects and  areas of ear and hearing. The themes over the past few years include as  follows:





On the World Hearing Day 2015, WHO raised alarm about the risk to hearing  posed by unsafe listening habits (World Health Organization, 2015c) and  launched the ”Make Listening Safe” initiative. This highlights the  potentially devastating risk posed by injudicious exposure in recreational  settings and promotes safe listening practices among youth through raised  awareness and development of safer technology for listening to music (World  Health Organization, 2015d). WHO is working on this initiative with numerous  partners and experts, with the vision that people of all ages should be able to  enjoy listening to music with full protection of their hearing.

2016 drew attention to the  impact of childhood hearing loss. A brochure, an infographic, posters and  banners outlined ways and means to integrate preventive and interventional  strategies for childhood hearing loss within health care programmes (World  Health Organization, 2016f).

In 2017, WHO plans to highlight  the economic impact of hearing loss and cost-effectiveness of interventions to  address this condition with the theme: ”Action for hearing loss: make a sound  investment” (World Health Organization, 2016d).

Join WHO’s advocacy efforts

Over the past few years, an  increasing number of partners and countries across the world have been observing  this day through advocacy and action for ear and hearing care. Anyone can  simply join this effort by undertaking hearing-related activities on 3rd March.  You can access information on the upcoming theme and past activities on the WHO  webpage and download WHO information products and materials free of cost (World  Health Organization, 2016d). You can also sign up on WHO’s website  ( to receive alerts and  information about the World Hearing Day activities. All actions undertaken at  any level within the community will serve to strengthen this effort to advocate  for hearing loss. Vincent Van Gogh said that ”Great things are done by small  things brought together”. We believe that as the number of people,  organisations, and countries participating in this initiative grow, so will its  impact on the global health agenda.

1. Disabling hearing loss refers  to moderate or greater hearing loss in the worse hearing ear.

Acknowledgements of co-publication

The Editorial was originally  published in Ear  & Hearing, 2016  and is republished with the kind permission of the American Auditory Society.  For citation purposes, please use the original publication details: Chadha, S.  & Cieza A. 2017. Guest editorial: Promoting global action on hearing loss. World Hearing Day, Ear and Hear, 38, 133-134. DOI of original  article: AUD.0000000000000413.

Shelly Chadha and Alarcos Cieza
WHO Department for Management of  NCDs, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention
World Health Organization
Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland



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