The session, hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the World Health Organization (WHO), highlighted how unsafe listening practices are of global concern, and how a concentrated effort by all stakeholders is necessary to ensure global implementation of the H.870 standard and protect people’s hearing.
Moderator Dr Bilel Jamoussi (Chief, Study Groups Department, ITU-T) invited Dr Shelly Chadha (Medical Officer, WHO) whose presentation was on hearing loss and ICTs.
Chadha began her presentation by playing a demo video of a hearing loss simulator, with the overarching aim of giving the audience the idea that there are different degrees of hearing loss. She stated that a research by the WHO had revealed that hearing loss was on the rise, with figures rising from 360 million cases in 2008 to 466 million in 2018. Chadha added that by 2030, there will be 630 million cases of hearing loss, with the numbers increasing further to 900 million cases in 2050. Chadha argued that the rise of hearing loss across the lifespan could be attributed to several reasons, key factors being noise, which fell further into two categories – occupational, and recreational. She reiterated that while hearing loss due to loud sounds was irreversible, it was preventable through safe listening practices. Chadha lamented that 1.1 billion young people globally were at risk at risk of hearing loss as a result of unsafe listening practices. Chadha mentioned that the WHO’s vision was to make listening safe, so people of all ages can enjoy listening without putting their hearing at risk. Chadha in her final remarks, called for the need to raise awareness among listeners and policymakers about the need for safe listening, as well as provide suitable products, regulations, and apps to facilitate safe listening.
Mr Simão De Campos Neto (Counsellor for ITU-T Study Group 16, ITU-T) echoed Shelly’s sentiments, highlighting that over 1 billion young people (12-35 years) were at risk of hearing loss due to recreational exposure to loud sounds. Neto revealed that a WHO and ITU International standard was in place, which is at the same level as of an ISO and IEC de juris standards. Neto added that the WHO and ITU had developed a toolkit for safe listening devices and systems, that outlined what various stakeholders could do in order to protect users from noise-induced hearing loss.
Ms Roxana Widmer-Iliescu (Senior Programme Officer, Digital Inclusion Division, BDT/ITU and ITU-D Focal Point for ICT Accessibility) introduced the WHO and ITU toolkit. Widmer-Iliescu emphasized that the aim of the toolkit was to facilitate implementation of standards for safe listening devices. She added that the toolkit offered a practical guide to stakeholders such as government, industry, and civil society, on implementation and follow-up of global safe listening standards for devices. Widmer-Iliescu suggested that governments could develop a safe and healthy digital market in their countries through procurement policies, owing their public procurement represents an average of 10-17% of their GDP. The industry on its part, she added, could voluntarily adopt the WHO-ITU H.870 global standard to produce better products for their end-users, improve the overall quality of their products, and last but not least, create a market for ‘safe & healthy hearing devices and systems’. The civil society, she said, could conduct advocacy work, to ensure that governments develop regulations to implement the WHO-ITU global standard H 870, as well as carry out awareness raising campaigns to sensitise people regarding hearing loss prevention and safe listening.
Mr Masahito Kawamori (Keio Univ., Japan and Rapporteur Q28/16 on e-Health for ITU-T Study Group 16, ITU-T) presented safe listening standards for personal audio systems.
Kawamori mentioned that the WHO and ITU organised their first Joint Stakeholders’ Consultation on Safe Listening Devices on 1 October 2015, and based on the discussion, a new draft recommendation F.SLD ‘Guidelines for safe listening devices/systems’ was initiated at the ITU-T Q28/16. He then touched on dosimetry (sound dose), a concept based on the equal energy principle in hearing impairment risk assessment. Kawamori stated that the WHO-ITU standard recommends the following two levels: General: 40 hours for 80 decibel (dBA) a week, and Strict: 40 hours for 75 decibel (dBA) a week. This, he said, is a stricter requirement for children, as compared to adults.
He summed up his presentation with ‘New work on Sound Exposure in Recreational Venues’, where he revealed that the WHO had initiated discussions on a global standard for recreational sound in entertainment venues. Kawamori added that different components had been identified (e.g. type of venues, sound limits, quiet spaces, hearing protection, warning messages, and monitoring), and that the WHO was exploring identification of information needs, collection of existing evidence, and collaboration with experts, towards development of guidelines for sound exposure in recreational venues.
However, he pointed out that it was still unclear as to how ITU (or ICTs) could be involved in this.
By Bonface Witaba