Australian researchers to lead UN Global Hearing Co-operative to address hearing loss in low- and middle-income countries

Left to right: Dr Rebecca Kim, Dr John Newall and Associate Professor Piers Dawes

Dr John Newall, Associate Professor Piers Dawes and Dr Rebecca Kim, researchers at Sydney’s Macquarie University, have been awarded funding from the United Nations’ Global Partnership for Assistive Technology to address hearing loss in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

There are 466 million people with hearing loss worldwide and stark global inequalities in hearing health: 80% of people with hearing loss live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Hearing aids are very effective in reducing the impact of hearing loss.

But there are few opportunities for individuals in LMICs to access hearing aids. Getting a hearing aid in high-income countries like Australia involves a highly trained audiologist or technician individually adjusting a hearing aid to meet a prescriptive target using costly equipment in a specialised clinical setting – all of which are scarce in LMICs. Additionally, hearing aids are costly compared to average incomes in LMICs.

Advances such as hearing self-testing on mobile devices, low-cost diagnostic equipment, automated processes for characterising hearing loss and ear disease, telehealth, self-fitting, and low-cost pre-programmed hearing aids all offer the potential to increase access to help for hearing loss in LMICs.

The project will provide information on hearing needs and test the benefits of low-cost pre-programmed hearing aids for people in LMIC countries.

To deliver this project, Sydney researchers will work with a Global Hearing Co-operative network across 16 LMICs, including Cambodia, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malawi, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Russian Federation, Samoa, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey.

Leader of the Global Hearing Co-operative, Dr John Newall said “This project will drive our understanding of the hearing health needs of those in a diverse range of low- and middle-income countries, and investigate the efficacy of low-cost, scalable hearing interventions.”

 

To deliver this project, Macquarie University is co-ordinating a Global Hearing Co-operative with twenty three other training and NGO organisations around the world including: ABC Hearing Clinic (Malawi; national NGO), All Ears Cambodia (Cambodia; national NGO), All India Institute of Speech and Hearing (India; research/training institution), Ankara University (Turkey; research/training institution), BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (Nepal; research/training institution), China Rehabilitation Research Center for Hearing and Speech Impairment (China; research/training institution), Dr. S.R. Chandrasekhar Institute of Speech and Hearing, Bangalore (India; research/training institution, NGO), Ear Centre International Nepal Fellowship (Nepal; national NGO), EARS Inc Hearing Clinic, Centro Cristiano de Servicios Medicos (Dominican Republic; national NGO), Hacettepe University Audiology Department (Turkey; research/training institution), Helwan University (Egypt: research/training institute), International Islamic University Malaysia (Malaysia; research/training institution), İstanbul Aydın Üniversitesi (Turkey; research/training institution), İstanbul Medipol University (Turkey; research/training institute), Istanbul University (Turkey; research/training institution), Kasoem Hearing & Speech Centre (Indonesia; clinical service provider), Laboratory of Hearing and Speech St. Petersburg State Medical University, St.Petersburg (Russia; research/training institute), National Research Centre for Audiology and Hearing Rehabilitation, Moscow (Russia; research/training institute), Pretoria University (South Africa; research/training institution), Prince of Songkla University (Thailand; research/training institution), Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital (Samoa; clinical/training institute), University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong; research/training institution), University of Jordan (Jordan; research/training institution), and the University of Santo Tomas (Philippines; research/training institution).

Dr Newall, the principal investigator, is an audiologist whose primary area of expertise is hearing loss and hearing rehabilitation in LMICs. Dr Newall led investigations of hearing handicap as well as an investigation of the effectiveness of two large-scale hearing aid donation programmes in the Philippines.