360 million people worldwide have a disabling form of hearing loss, with 80% living in low and middle-income countries.
10 million people in the UK have some form of hearing loss.
Deafness and hearing loss may be caused by:
- complications during pregnancy
- childhood illness
- accidents or trauma
- ear diseases (which can usually be treated in the UK)
- infections like meningitis, measles, mumps, (and cerebral malaria in the developing world)
- inherited deafness and age related deafness (although this is a tiny proportion in the developing world compared to the UK)
Hearing is usually the key to a person’s ability to develop. For most of us speech is the most important type of communication. Some people with hearing loss can hear some sounds, particularly if they are using hearing aids, and so gain a lot from speech. Others may hear no sounds at all, particularly if they are not able to use hearing aids, so additional support for communication and development is vital.
Hearing Loss in Africa
In income poor countries hearing aid provision is hardly ever an option. This makes it very difficult to learn to speak and so the major problem deaf children face is with communication.
In the developing world being deaf means you are unlikely to go to school, and if you do go you will not have a teacher who understands how to communicate or teach you. We have discovered that typically in these countries, 70% of deaf children do not attend. Of those that do, the majority drop out because they face discrimination and lack of achievement, so only 1% finally finish their schooling.
Superstitions about curses and witchcraft are common, often affecting 40% of the population including parents, teachers and health visitors.
Deafness is often overlooked in development programmes because it is thought to affect a relatively small group of people and because it is so little is understood. In fact large numbers of people with hearing loss are hidden, and whilst they may be excluded from their family and community, their family and community are missing out on the vital contributions that they could be making.
Hearing Loss in the UK
Members of the UK’s aging population are more likely to develop hearing loss. This is inevitably putting increased pressure on services leading to increased marginalisation. In addition, research is now indicating a possible link between hearing loss and dementia. This highlights the growing need to tackle the isolation and disempowerment that can come with hearing loss.
Note we take our definitions of hearing loss and deafness from the charity Action on Hearing Loss (formerly Royal National Institute for the Deaf).