Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Hearing care across the life course provided in the community

Jonathan J Suen, Kaustubh Bhatnagar, Susan D Emmett, Nicole Marrone, Samantha Kleindienst Robler, De Wet Swanepoel, Aileen Wong & Carrie L Nieman

Untreated hearing loss is recognized as a growing global health priority because of its prevalence and harmful effects on health and well-being. Until recently, little progress had been made in expanding hearing care beyond traditional clinic-based models to incorporate public health approaches that increase accessibility to and affordability of hearing care. As demonstrated in numerous countries and for many health conditions, sharing health-care tasks with community health workers (CHWs) offers advantages as a complementary approach to expand health-service delivery and improve public health. This paper explores the possibilities of task shifting to provide hearing care across the life course by reviewing several ongoing projects in a variety of settings – Bangladesh, India, South Africa and the United States of America. The selected programmes train CHWs to provide a range of hearing-care services, from childhood hearing screening to management of age-related hearing loss. We discuss lessons learnt from these examples to inform best practices for task shifting within community-delivered hearing care. Preliminary evidence supports the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of hearing care delivered by CHWs in these varied settings. To make further progress, community-delivered hearing care must build on established models of CHWs and ensure adequate training and supervision, delineation of the scope of practice, supportive local and national legislation, incorporation of appropriate technology and analysis of programme costs and cost–effectiveness. In view of the growing evidence, community-delivered hearing care may now be a way forward to improve hearing health equity.