Improving access to hearing assistive technology: Needs and best practices

Authors: Ariane Laplante-Lévesque1, Andrea Pupulin1, Shelly Chadha1

1World Health Organization

Background: Assistive technology helps maintain or improve functioning related to hearing, vision, mobility, cognition, self-care and communication. Assistive products enable health, well-being, inclusion and participation. Whilst investment in assistive technology provides a highly favourable return on investment, access to assistive products is often limited. This presentation summarises some of the support offered by the World Health Organization (WHO) towards improving access to hearing assistive technology in countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Methods: In 2020–2021, household surveys on access to assistive technology were conducted in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Poland, Tajikistan, and Ukraine. The WHO rapid Assistive Technology Assessment survey tool was translated and underwent cognitive testing and pilot testing. A total of 475 interviewers and supervisors were trained in data collection and they reached 28,934 respondents.

Results: The samples reflected the population structure of the five countries and were therefore different, yet similarities in results emerged. It was from 13 to 58% of the populations that reported needing assistive technology and from 7 to 18% of the populations that reported not having access to assistive technology they needed. In two of the five countries, hearing aids were among the top five most used assistive products. And in four countries, hearing aids were among the top five most needed assistive products. Reported barriers to access included limited awareness, inadequate quality of the assistive products available, and large out-of-pocket payments. The household surveys were complemented by a scoping literature review. The presentation showcases concrete actions to improve access to assistive technology that arise from the research results.

Conclusions: Research initiatives are instrumental in improving access to hearing assistive technology and to sustainable, long-term progress towards global health.