On 3 March 2016 World Hearing Day will be recognised by the World Health Organisation to highlight hearing loss as one of the most common chronic disabilities. It ranks high among lifestyle diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Audiologists will be celebrating it through open days in their practices, talks to members of the public, including learners at schools.
Loud music, a big part of modern recreational activities, is another important cause of hearing loss and tinnitus. There are exciting new developments in the field of technology and hearing aids that will make devices more affordable to the general public.
Read: What is hearing loss?
On the point of access to hearing health care services,members of the public need to find a point of entry into the hearing health care system that will give them information, a baseline hearing screening for example, and/or refer them to an Audiologist for an in-depth assessment.
In the UK, Europe, the USA and Australia user-friendly smartphone applications and landline telephone hearing tests are easily accessible. Researchers in South Africa have been working in collaboration with experts in Europe to develop a similar application for our population.
In conjunction with World Hearing Day, the University of Pretoria will be launching hearZATM as the National Hearing Test to screen for hearing loss by means of a user-friendly smartphone application.
Read: Symptoms of hearing loss
With more than 3.2 million people in South Africa suffering from permanent hearing loss, hearZATM will provide access to early detection to anyone with a smartphone. The application will be available for a free download from iOS and Android app stores, giving users a free sponsored hearing screening test.
HearZATM has partnered with local professional organisations for hearing healthcare providers to ensure widespread access to hearing healthcare services. Persons who fail a hearing test will be provided with the contact details of their closest hearing healthcare providers.
Read: Causes of hearing loss
The creators of the app have developed a referral system (hearData) that ensures that persons who fail a hearing test on hearZATM are linked with their closest hearing health providers. Audiological practices have registered on the referral platform in order to receive hearZA referrals.
It is estimated that 260 000 hearZATM tests will be completed by December 2016. This makes hearing health care easily accessible to those with suspected or real hearing problems. Hearing well equals living well!
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