To mark the World Hearing Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched “hearWHO“, a free application for smart mobile devices which allows people to check their hearing regularly and intervene early in case of hearing loss.
Over 5% of the world’s population i.e around 466 million people – have disabling hearing loss (432 million adults and 34 million children). Majority of them reside in low- and middle-income countries and commonly lack access to required services and interventions. It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people – or one in every ten people – will have disabling hearing loss. Globally, hearing loss which has gone unaddressed poses an annual cost of US$ 750 billion.
In case of hearing loss, early identification is the key to effective rehabilitation. To ensure that hearing loss is picked up at the earliest, all people should check their hearing from time to time.
With the launch of app, WHO aims to
- raise awareness about the importance of hearing,
- encourage people to check their hearing regularly and practice safe listening.
- allow health workers to check the hearing status of people in their communities.
- to determine the need of an individual for having a formal hearing test.
hearWHO app is targeted at people who are at risk of hearing loss, such as those who listen to loud music; work in noisy places; people who use medicines that are harmful to hearing; and people aged above 60 years.
The app is also useful for those who already experience some of the symptoms related to hearing loss like having a ringing sensation in the ear, known as tinnitus; having a tendency to increase the volume of television, radio or audio devices; or frequently missing parts of a conversation.
“Many people with hearing loss are unaware of it and as such they miss out on educational, professional and everyday-life opportunities,” said Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department for the Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, and Violence and Injury Prevention.
“hearWHO” is a mobile and web-based software application for hearing screening. The app is based on a validated digits-in-noise technology: users are asked to concentrate, listen and enter into their mobile devices a series of three numbers when prompted. These numbers have been recorded against varying levels of background sound, simulating listening conditions in everyday life. At the end of a 2-minute test, a score and its meaning is displayed to the user. The easy-to-use app also keeps a personalized track record of users’ hearing status over time.
The most attractive thing about the hearWHO app is that it can be used by individuals as well as health workers so that hearing screening, especially in low-resources settings can be facilitated.
Though accuracy of test results will depend on the type of headphones users use, as well as the ambient noise level, the app can be used very well as a screening tool for early identification of hearing loss and rehabilitation.
At present the app is available in English only. WHO has plans for multilingual support by late 2019. Currently the app is available for both iOS and Andorid devices.
For the development of “hearWHO” an advisory group has been constituted by WHO consisting of: Dr Jackie Clark, Dr Deborah Ferrari, Dr Cas Smits and Dr De Wet Swanepoel.