Over 200 Hearing-Impaired Adults Lack Government Funding
“Breaking the silence”
Over 200 deaf and severely hearing-impaired adults are unable to receive hearing restoring implanted hearing aids due to lack of government funding.
In New Zealand funding is available for approximately 40 adults per year to have cochlear implant, yet there are over 200 who have been assessed as good candidates for achieving significant hearing improvement with a cochlear implant.
Currently we can fund only 1 in 5 patients who have been assessed as needing a cochlear implant.
The Northern and Southern Cochlear Implant Programmes are forced to choose only those whose lives are most severely affected to receive the implants.
It is heart breaking to watch those not able to access this surgery slowly disintegrate as their lives fall apart, especially as there is a great treatment option that makes an enormous difference.
Typically, a person with this degree of hearing loss understands less than one third of spoken words when using the most powerful hearing aids and in a good listening environment. Once there is competing noise they cannot follow conversation and telephone conversation is impossible. This severely impacts functionality in the workplace as well as at home.
Concentrating on listening and lip reading is both stressful and extremely tiring and interpersonal relationships suffer; leading to social isolation, loss of employment and often depression.
This group of people have grown up with normal hearing and for one reason or another have lost hearing in adulthood. Hearing aids often help for a time, but as hearing deteriorates to a severe or profound hearing loss then aids are no longer effective.
Sometimes, even in otherwise healthy people, hearing loss can happen suddenly; leaving an invisible but devastating disability.
Fifty percent of those unable to receive funding for cochlear implantation are under 65 and their jobs, families and mental health suffer from the daily communication struggles. Talk to someone who has benefited from cochlear implantation and they will tell you about the enormous changes in their mental and physical health that occurred because of their hearing loss and how implantation has brought them back into society.
People find it very hard to speak out about this as communication is already so challenging, they are scared that if others know how much they are struggling it will disadvantage them further or they may lose their job. This affects people from all walks of life from nurses to retail workers, labourers and accountants – very few can self- fund a cochlear implant and are left with no options.
Internationally hearing loss is recognised as an important health issue and the World Health Assembly have called on nations to develop national action plans on hearing loss. Adult cochlear implants are one important aspect of managing severe hearing loss and in New Zealand this is not being adequately addressed.
The New Zealand Society of Otolaryngology Head
and Neck Surgery has serious concerns that the deaf and
severely impaired in our population are not receiving
appropriate funding for cochlear
implants that have a life-transforming effect; bringing people out of a silent non-communicative world back into the hearing world in which they have lived.
The need for global action on hearing loss
The World Health Organisation informed its governing body (the World Health Assembly) in February 2017 that the annual global cost of untreated hearing loss is over $750 billion. It is truly time for a global public health response because millions of people can be helped if the right policies and programs are in place. The seriousness of hearing loss continues to be under-recognised by decision makers when allocating health resources
Resolution for global action on hearing loss by the World
On 31 May, 2017 the World Health Assembly (WHA) passed a resolution recommending global and country action on the prevention of deafness and hearing loss. This is the first time in 22 years that the WHA has given priority to hearing health care policy. Here is the link to the media statement that confirms support for the resolution http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/vector-control-ncds-cancer/en/.
The benefits of a WHA resolution
The resolution sets out the benchmark for hearing health care policy and is a public commitment by the WHA and its 192 member countries to undertake program work in the field of hearing care. It sets out the main things each government should include in localised policies. It is a strong tool for political advocacy that can be used to undertake awareness activities with policymakers, government ministers, funding bodies and communities.
A key benefit in the resolution is that each country is called upon to have a ‘national action plan’ to prevent deafness and hearing loss. The resolution sets out a number of critical steps for addressing the impact of deafness and hearing loss, including:
• Raised awareness among decision-makers and the general public about the high prevalence of hearing loss and its social and economic impact
• Improved access to affordable, high-quality assistive hearing technologies and products, including hearing aids and cochlear implants, as part of universal health coverage
• Enhanced screening programmes to identify and diagnose ear disease and hearing loss early, with attention placed on infants, young children and older adults
• Raised awareness of noise-induced hearing loss and implementation of measures that address occupational, environmental and recreational exposure to noise
• Better data collection on ear disease and hearing loss to educate and inform policy decision-makers to develop evidence-based strategies