On May 31, 2017, the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) approved resolution WHA70.13 to urge member states and to request the Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva to take specific actions.
In July 2018, the World Hearing Forum (WHF) was established to facilitate the implementation of these actions. “The World Hearing Forum fills a critical gap by bringing a collective vision to advocacy and collaboration in this field. Its members include representatives of governments, non-state actors, WHO Collaborating Centres, professional societies and industry partners. The purpose of the Forum is to promote action for ear and hearing care through global advocacy. The Forum will provide a platform where all stakeholders within this field can work together in a cohesive manner to achieve the goal of accessible ear and hearing care for all.” (WHF Handbook, 2019).
In 2019, Speech-Language & Audiology Canada (SAC) was approved to become a member organization of the WHO WHF. On December 4-5, 2019, the first Membership Assembly of the WHF was held at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva. SAC member Kathy Pichora-Fuller (CASLPA President 1985-86) attended as the representative of SAC.
The main objectives of the first Membership Assembly of the WHF were to:
- share the vision, mission and actions of the World Hearing Forum;
- engage members in the Forum’s Working Groups and actions;
- propose an advocacy action plan for the next two years;
- serve as a platform for exchange of views among members;
- explore options for resource mobilization.
The vision and organizational structure of the WHF were explained by two key staff members at WHO: Dr. Shelly Chadha, the medical officer for ear and hearing care and Dr. Alarcos Cieza, the coordinator for blindness and deafness prevention, disability and rehabilitation. Drs. Chadha and Cieza, other staff at WHO, and distinguished guests such as the ambassadors from Japan and Kenya engaged representatives from 144 member organizations and 43 other observers in the issues and opportunities for hearing care that could unite member organizations around the world. Four working groups focused on strategies concerning four specific actions that align with the WHA70.13: (1) Make Listening Safe; (2) World Hearing Day; (3) World Report on Hearing; and (4) Fostering role models and champions in the field of hearing care.
The WHF brought together a diversity of stakeholders. It was clear that only by joining forces and working together would we have the power to make real change in ear and hearing care. The breadth of representatives of WHF members is illustrated by examples including the President of the International Society of Audiology (Lena Wong, Hong Kong) and representatives from other national organizations representing audiologists such as SAC, the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA), the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), and Audiology Australia. Other representatives included the President of the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People (Ruth Warick, Vancouver), representatives from industry (e.g., Julia Legeti, Cochlear Australia; Ora Buerli, Hear the World Foundation, Phonak, Switzerland; Stefan Zimmer, European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association), NGOs (e.g., Audra Renyi, World Wide Hearing Foundation International, Montreal), governments (e.g., Ministries of Health from Morocco and Costa Rica), and well-known health organizations (e.g., Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta).
This vision inspired the WHF working groups to harness creativity and resources from across the world and to build strength and synergistic collaborations through a consensus process. The working groups ignited great excitement as ideas from around the world and across sectors were shared. The WHF reinforced prior connections among the member organizations and fostered many new connections. Overall, excellent progress was made in advancing the four designated actions. Some of the tangible results of the meeting will be rolled out over the next two years, beginning in Spring 2020.
In May 2020, the first WHO World Report on Hearing will be published. The WHO will provide translations in the official UN languages and WHF members from other countries will be developing and sharing translations into other languages. This document will provide stakeholders in ear and hearing care around the world with a blueprint for developing national action plans that can be coordinated internationally. Stay tuned for updates on the SAC website.
In the meantime, we hope that all Canadian hearing health professionals join with others around the world in finding creative ways to raise awareness about hearing health as we celebrate World Hearing Day on March 3. To access materials and find out more about these celebrations see https://www.who.int/activities/celebrating--world--hearing--day.
The World Hearing Forum (WHF) has been established by WHO, as a global network of stakeholders promoting ear and hearing care worldwide. Members of this advocacy network will commit to facilitating implementation of World Health Assembly resolution WHA70.13 on “Prevention of deafness and hearing loss” and supporting Member States in this regard.