LARGO, FL—More than 275 million people around the world have disabling hearing loss (>40 dB HL) and another 365 million-plus have milder losses, according to the most recent estimate by the World Health Organization. Of these, an estimated 75% live in developing countries, where hearing healthcare providers and services are so scarce that only a tiny fraction of the children and adults with hearing loss can hope to receive help for their condition.
This dire situation has inspired a new effort to address the global burden of hearing loss by expanding the supply of hearing health services where the needs are greatest. Two organizations–the American Institute of Continuing Medical Education (AICME), in Largo, FL, and the University of New England–College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNECOM), in Biddeford, ME–have teamed up to establish the International Hearing Care Technician (IHCT) Certificate Program.
According to Richard E. Gans, PhD, the founder of AICME, the new program “provides education without boundaries.” He added, “It facilitates global, digital/web-based training to individuals who will, in turn, help professional providers reach underserved children and adults in developing countries with hearing and equilibrium disorders.”
Gans, who is founder and CEO of the American Institute of Balance and a former president of the American Academy of Audiology, discussed this new non-commercial initiative in an interview with Hearing News Watch.
The hearing care technicians certified by the program will work in developing countries, Gans noted, not in the U.S. or other nations that already have well-developed hearing healthcare services. Typically, he said, those enrolling in the online training will be high school graduates. Once they are certified, they will work under the supervision of people with more advanced training.
The cost of the 21-hour online course is $900. Since that amount could be prohibitive for many prospective trainees, Gans said that AICME is seeking innovative partnerships with individuals, corporations, foundations, professional societies, faith-based groups, universities, and governments.
Some funding sources have already been identified. For example, in the Dominican Republic, where there are just 60 ear, nose, and throat doctors physicians (and no audiologists) providing for the hearing care needs of 11 million people, the ENTs will pay the costs for some trainees. ENTs in Pakistan are doing the same, while in Malawi the government has agreed to provide 10 scholarships for .
Gans believes that the IHCT Certificate Program will be an economic boon to the countries where its trainees serve. Certificate recipients will be qualified to pursue careers in hearing health, while those whose hearing loss they help treat will have more opportunities in the workplace.
STEERING COMMITTEE FORMED
The AICME is creating an international medical and scientific advisory board, starting with with an initial steering committee. Along with Gans, the steering committee includes two other prominent audiologists: James W. “Jay” Hall III, PhD, of the University of Florida, a pioneer in the burgeoning area of tele-audiology, and Jackie Clark, PhD, of the University of Texas-Dallas, who has been honored for her humanitarian efforts in Africa.
Also serving on the committee is Herbert J. Silverstein, MD, president and founder of the Silverstein Institute, which is a leader in the research and treatment of ear, nose, and throat disorders.
Hall, who is section director of the IHCT Certificate Program, said, “Courses are taught in English and Spanish by an international faculty, with more languages to follow. Once their certificate is granted, the individual will work directly under the supervision, guidance, and direction of audiologists, otolaryngologists, or qualified physicians.”
AICME has an informational video on its web site about this promising new endeavor.