According to the World Health Organization, 642 million people in the world suffer from hearing loss. Of these, 278 million suffer from hearing loss so disabling that actions most people take for granted, like having a conversation, are impossible for them without a hearing aid. The majority live in developing countries and almost none have access to hearing aids or services. The cost of hearing care is simply unaffordable and there are too few audiologists working in poor countries to provide treatment for everyone.
Our Solution: Hearing Express™
In response to this immense global need, we’ve created an innovative system of hearing care called Hearing Express. Hearing Express is designed to provide hearing aids to vast numbers of people in underserved communities without sacrificing on quality. It is a model that works in parallel to, and with the assistance of, existing professional hearing care and audiology services.
Hearing Express has three components that make it unique:
We source high-quality, digital hearing aids at very low cost and use other cost-saving technologies like solar rechargeable batteries. We also use mobile health technologies that allow us to operate without computers or clinics. These innovations place high-quality hearing care within the reach of millions.
2. Rapid Fitting
The devices we use allow us to test for hearing loss and fit hearing aids in under an hour, allowing us to treat vast numbers of people with fewer personnel.
We train local people in developing countries to become audio-technicians who can provide hearing aids using equipment that fits in a backpack. We create local capacity to address hearing problems and ensure that follow-up services are available to those who need them long after they’ve received their hearing aids.
We begin by working with different manufacturers to put together a kit of mobile hearing care technologies. These include:
- Otoscopes. These are instruments used to examine the inside of the ear. They allow our audio-technicians to quickly determine whether a person’s ear is blocked with wax or infected.
- Portable audiometers. These are hearing test devices that determine the severity of an individual’s hearing loss. They are used with noise-cancelling headphones to ensure accuracy.
- Self-programmable hearing aids.Typically, a hearing aid needs to be programmed using a computer and specialized software. Hearing Express hearing aids have built-in software that allows them to be programmed with the touch of a button. No computers required. These hearing aids are an effective solution for mild to moderate hearing loss.
- Solar-powered battery chargers and rechargeable batteries. Hearing aids use a battery a week, which represents an enormous cost for someone in a developing country. By using rechargeable batteries and providing solar-powered battery chargers, we reduce the number of batteries required to 2 or 3 per year. Rechargeable batteries are also more environmentally friendly.
- Instant silicone-injection ear molds (in prototype phase). People with severe hearing loss often require a custom mold that fits into their ear and amplifies sound from their hearing aid while blocking ambient noise. It takes an average of two weeks to take an impression of the ear and create an ear mold. Hearing Express is working with a manufacturer to create a portable headset that creates a perfect ear mold in 4 minutes using rapid-setting silicone.
This kit fits into a backpack, allowing us to deliver hearing aids to even remote areas in developing countries where no treatment facilities exist. By eliminating the need for clinics, computers, and medical specialists, Hearing Express greatly reduces the cost of hearing care.
We establish an accreditation center where an audiologist trains local people to become audio-technicians. They undergo a 5 week course that teaches them how to identify ear problems, test for hearing loss, and correctly fit and program a hearing aid. Once ready, they receive their equipment from World Wide Hearing and begin helping people hear in villages, schools, towns, and even clinics.
The key to helping large numbers of people is being rapid and efficient without compromising on quality of care. Traditional audiology services can take up to two weeks to deliver a hearing aid. Our audio-technicians can test for hearing loss and fit a hearing aid in less than an hour.
The Hearing Express model is built to provide long-term, sustainable hearing care. Hearing aids can break or get lost. Children outgrow their ear molds as they get bigger. And even if nothing goes wrong, hearing aids need to be replaced on average every five years. Providing hearing aids without providing long-term support is simply not an option. Our audio-technicians are trained to stay in their communities to provide follow-up services long after the first fitting.
Hearing Express complements traditional health care services. When our audio-technicians encounter a person with severe hearing loss or a serious health problem (such as an ear infection), they refer him or her to a specialist. By screening dozens of individuals a week, each audio-technician increases the likelihood of detecting ear-related illnesses that may otherwise go untreated.
Is Hearing Express an appropriate solution for everyone?
Hearing Express is appropriate in approximately 80% of cases. It is designed for individuals aged five and up who have up to 70 dB of hearing loss (mild to moderate range). Individuals with more severe hearing loss, as well as babies and very young children suspected of impaired hearing, will be referred to a doctor.
Do you use refurbished or second-hand hearing aids?
No, we only use new digital hearing aids. We do not use any refurbished or second-hand devices.
Where does your equipment come from?
Our devices are sourced from a number of different manufacturers in North America, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. World Wide Hearing does not manufacture any equipment.
Do you work in developed (wealthy) countries?
Currently, we only work in developing countries where the need is greatest.
Why don’t you provide cochlear implants?
Cochlear implants are extremely expensive. The equipment and procedure often cost in excess of $50,000 USD per individual. Moreover, trained surgeons and modern hospital equipment are required to perform operations. As a result, they are not the ideal solution for helping large numbers of people in developing countries with limited resources.