World Hearing Day: Tackling the silent epidemic

Lead inventor and UP Prof De Wet Swanepoel demonstrates the free hearZA app. Photo: University of Pretoria

Lead inventor and UP Prof De Wet Swanepoel demonstrates the free hearZA app. Photo: University of Pretoria

Published Mar 3, 2017


Johannesburg -  Today the globe, including South Africa marks World Hearing Day.

According to Professor De Wet Swanepoel, Professor in Audiology in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Pretoria (UP), more than three million South Africans suffer from permanent, disabling hearing loss.

Globally 328 million people have permanent disabling hearing loss with the South African National Deaf Association many South African teenagers and young adults are at risk of exposure to hearing loss due to environmental risks, the unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to damaging levels of sound in noisy entertainment venues.

This year’s World Hearing Day, in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) will focus on “Action for Hearing Loss”.

Called a silent epidemic, hearing loss affects one in seven people annually. It has pervasive and far reaching effects on development in children including speech, language, cognition and socio-emotional well-being and is one of the major barriers to educational success.

“In adults its effects include social isolation, increased depression and cognitive decline with a threefold increased risk of dementia,” Swanepoel said.

The World Health Organization estimates that hearing loss leads to a $750 billion annual global economic cost.

Swanepoel is the lead-inventor of HearZA™, the downloadable National Hearing Test App which was launched on World Hearing Day last year on Android and iOS application.

HearZA™, is a world first clinically valid hearing test on a smartphone in under three minutes. The mobile application was launched as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) initiative highlighting hearing loss as the most common chronic disability.

The App, developed and validated by UP, provides every user with a free hearing test. “HearZA’s vision is early detection and linkage to care as the key to eliminate avoidable hearing impairment.

“To date more than 24 646 people have been tested, 4 773 have been identified with hearing loss and close to 500 people have been linked to their closest hearing health providers,” Swanepoel said.

Available on any iOS or Android device, the App is accessible to everyone in South Africa. “With an estimated 6 million South Africans suffering from hearing loss, the HearZA™ App allows every South African to take a free hearing test on a smartphone.

“If a problem is detected, the App links people to their closest hearing health providers based on geolocation,” he explained.

As part of World Hearing Day 2017 a campaign has been launched to create awareness of the free mobile hearing technology available and the importance of preventative screening. “The campaign includes a variety of activities on traditional radio stations and digital and social media channels.

“HearZA™ also partnered with professional organisations, including the South African Audiological Association and South African Speech, Language and Hearing Association, to register 300+ audiology practices nationally,” Swanepoel concluded.

He adedd that this World Hearing Day the HearZA™ App will continue its vision for healthy hearing for everyone, everywhere.


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