Hearing, one of the five senses considered "the doors of perception", allows us to perceive the sounds around us and, through these sounds, engage with our environment. It is the medium through which we most commonly communicate with others, express our thoughts, gain education and engage socially.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) World Hearing Forum,1.5 billion people experience some decline in their hearing capacity during their life time, while many more are at risk of hearing loss due to avoidable causes.

One in 5 people worldwide lives with hearing loss, while 1 in 4 people are expected to have problems with their hearing, mostly from low-income and middle-income countries.

The impact of hearing loss is not just social, but also emotional and financial. Hearing impairment at a young age can lead to delayed language development and educational progress.

In adults, hearing loss can lead to dementia and depression.

Ear and hearing care interventions are cost-effective, but unaddressed hearing loss can prove expensive to communities.

By 2030, WHO has outlined a target of 20 per cent increase in the effective coverage of newborn hearing screening, 20 per cent increase in the effective coverage of adults with hearing loss that use hearing aids, and 20 per cent reduction in the prevalence of chronic ear diseases in school-age children.

The thing about hearing loss is that no one can see it, it is an invisible disability. In Nepal, 16.6 per cent of the population suffers from hearing problems, one of the highest in Asia, caused mostlyby ear infection, which is preventable.

Raising public health awareness can prevent hearing loss caused by noise and loud sounds, birth-related complications, ear infections, vaccine preventable diseases and ototoxic drugs. To prevent hearing loss and related ear diseases, it should be addressed at every stage in life through systemic screening of newborns, school children, people exposed to occupational noise, people receiving ototoxic medicines and older adults.

Ear Care Nepal (ECN), a voluntary organisation established by a group of ENT doctors and philanthropists, has screened, educated and treated over 79,000 children throughout Nepal for ear and hearing problems.

According to ECN, 10.5 per cent of school children in Nepal suffer from ear and hearing problems. The government must act now to integrate ear and hearing care in national policies as part of its universal health coverage to prevent hearing loss in the country.

Only by working together, can we achieve WHO's 2030 targets for hearing care services.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 3, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.