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Home >Science >Health >India grappling with shortage of ENT specialists: WHO report

NEW DELHI: A World Health Organization (WHO) report has pointed out to a huge deficit of healthcare workers for hearing and related problems in India.

As a case in point, the national capital is estimated to require an additional 1,075 ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists to identify and diagnose all patients of 0–15 years of age with common hearing problems.

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There are less than 650 ENT specialists in the city, indicating a ratio of 0.6. The number of general practitioners available in the city is considerably higher. “Hence it may be rational to share these tasks with general practitioners. Even primary level health workers could play a key role in improving identification of common ear diseases," said the WHO report which was released by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday.

The grim situation of ENT services in India was also brought to fore by a multi-centric, cross-sectional survey conducted as per WHO recommended Probability Proportional to Size (PPS) sampling technique which assessed 92,097 people in the community across six sites in India.

"The sample size makes this the world’s largest such study to-date. The results have showed a changing profile of hearing loss in India’s population. The study showed that the disabling hearing loss affected 2.9% of the population and was noted to effect communication, education and work," said minister Vardhan.

"The rural population had a far greater prevalence of hearing loss. The prevalence of total hearing loss, unilateral and bilateral was found to be as high as 9.93%. The geriatric population accounted for 40.5% of all hearing loss and 72.4% of all disabling hearing loss," the minister added.

The study also helped in identifying risk factors associated with Sensory Neural Hearing Loss (SNHL) - smokeless tobacco consumption, heavy smoking, leisure and work-related noise, and also excessive residential noise.

India’s National Programme for Prevention and Control of Deafness targets 6% of the population who have disabling hearing loss and require interventions. Launched in 2006, the programme focuses on preventing hearing loss, especially those caused by ear infections and noise; early identification of deaf babies and hard of hearing persons; timely provision of suitable interventions and services like medicines, surgery, hearing devices and rehabilitation.

More than 30 thousand free-of-cost ENT surgeries and around 24,000 hearing aids were provided under the programme in 2019-20.

The WHO report warned that nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide, or 1 in 4, will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050. At least 700 million of these people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken.

The report highlighted that among low-income countries, about 78% have fewer than one ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist per million population; 93% have fewer than one audiologist per million; only 17% have one or more speech therapist per million; and 50% have one or more teacher for the deaf per million.

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