‘One Billion People at Risk over Long Conversation on Smartphone’

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Stories by Emma Okonji

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations agency responsible for global telecommunications regulation, has raised the alarm that about one billion teenagers and adult persons globally, stand the risk of permanent hearing impairment through long conversations and continuous listening to music from smartphones and other mobile devices that are connected to the ear through an earpiece.

Worried about the dangers of the recent trend where youths listen to music for long hours through a connected earpiece directly to the ear, which could damage the ear membrane and cause permanent hearing impairment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the ITU recently launched the ITU-WHO Safe Listening toolkit, while highlighting the importance of safe listening.

According to a combined statement from both international organisations, they warned that a billion teenagers and young adults globally were at risk of developing hearing loss because they listen to music too long and too loud.
Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, who is attached to WHO, said in the statement that the rising incomes and greater access to technology are increasing the numbers of people at risk.

“Once hearing loss due to loud sounds sets in, it cannot be reversed. Such hearing loss, if unaddressed, can greatly impact one’s ability to communicate, gain education or find and hold suitable employment,” the statement said.

The toolkit provides practical guidance to support member states, industry partners and civil society groups to use and implement the WHO-ITU H.870 Global standard on safe listening devices and systems.
Medical Officer at the WHO, Dr. Shelly Chandha, explained what the standard consisted of a set of recommendations for safe listening features that should be included on every personal listening device like a smartphone or an MP3 player

According to Chandha, there are three sets of features.
“The first is a software that tracks how much and how long you are listening, and tells you how much sound you are getting. The second is a safety feature that includes automatic volume reduction and parental control — like giving people an optional safety belt in their device. The third feature is about making this information available to the user at the touch of the fingertip, so they can find out how much sound they have consumed in a day, or over the last week.

“With these features, we want to empower the users of these devices to make safe listening choices,” Chandha emphasised, adding that the next step is for countries to take these standards and turn them into regulations to protect the hearing of their people.”

ITU Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. Malcolm Johnson, said: “This is the first time we will have a standard where users are able to be aware of the risks they are entering into by listening to their devices. ITU’s collaboration with WHO is very important. This standard and future standards are not just helping the technology to develop, but also helping to improve peoples’ health.”