Recently, the Head of Ear, Nose and Throat Department of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, (NAUTH), Nnewi, Anambra state, Dr. Evaristus Afiadigwe, disclosed that 8.5 million Nigerians have hearing disabilities. Dr. Afiadigwe, who is the senior consultant Otorhinolaryngologist, stated this on March 4 at an event to commemorate this year’s World’s Hearing Day.
The medical expert, who expressed fear that the figure might increase to 30 million by 2030, explained that the number grew from the 2008 figure of 6.5 million.
He cautioned that unless appropriate actions are taken to curtail the rising cases of hearing loss, about 630 million people in the world would experience hearing challenges by 2030, while about 900 million people would grapple with the problem by 2050.
Dr. Afiadigwe noted that a recent survey of people living with hearing disabilities in some of the most populous nations of the world conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed Nigeria as one of the countries mostly affected. Other medical experts who spoke at the event confirmed the enormity of the problem.
Last year, the Minister of Health Minister, Prof Isaac Adewole, raised the alarm that the population of Nigerians with various ear and hearing diseases had, in about a decade, increased from 7.3 million to 8.5 million. He spoke at the launching of the National Policy and Strategic Plan for Ear and Hearing Care in Nigeria in Abuja.
The minister also said that the physical, social and economic impact of hearing loss on individuals and nations could be as high as $130 billion annually. Indeed, the challenges associated with hearing loss are diverse. Apart from the fact that hearing impairment causes disability in communication, which might put the patient at a disadvantage in moments of danger, it can also cause a number of psychological conditions for the patient.
Medical experts believe that various administrations in the country have failed to accord the treatment of ear disease adequate attention and urge the government to change the situation. Some have also noted that the number of Nigerians with hearing challenges could be higher than the 8.5 million.
Without doubt, the government has not created enough awareness about hearing impairment among Nigerians. Unfortunately, many Nigerians do not usually go for hearing tests. Also, it has been observed by medical experts that not many Nigerians are enlightened on the causes of ear diseases, treatment options and how they can be prevented.
According to medical experts, some of the conditions that can lead to hearing loss include, among others, aging, injuries, excessive noise exposure and viral infections such as measles or mumps. Others are ototoxic drugs, meningitis, diabetes, stroke, high fever or elevated body temperature, acoustic tumours, obesity, smoking and hypertension.
In spite of the dangers of excessive noise on the cochlea and auditory nerves, for instance, there is an intolerable level of exposure to excessive noise pollution in some cities in the country. In the streets, at popular bus stops, in churches and mosques, Nigerians are exposed to noise pollution on a daily basis. Yet many are not even aware of the danger in such unhealthy exposure.
Besides the lack of awareness, Nigeria has been unable to produce the number of ear experts it requires for its population. The rising cases of hearing impairment in Nigeria can be linked to the lack of the required number of audiologists in the country. Available statistics show that in Africa, there is one audiologist to one million people.
It has become imperative, therefore, that all stakeholders should be involved in the battle to reduce Nigeria’s hearing impairment burden. Government must be more involved in awareness campaigns about the condition. More facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of ear conditions should be provided, even as the country invests more in the training of ear specialists. Nigerians should also imbibe the culture of checking their hearing status always.