Keynote Address: World Hearing Day Symposium

March 3, 2018

Keynote Address of Senator Loren Legarda

World Hearing Day Symposium

March 3, 2018 | Fairmont, Makati

Allow me first to extend my sincerest appreciation to the organizers of this event for inviting me in this very important and urgent gathering here today.

The great Helen Keller once said: “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.”

Dr. Mark Ross, an esteemed audiologist who is afflicted with hearing loss, also said: “When someone in the family has a hearing loss, the entire family has a hearing problem.”

The difficulty and stress of having deafness or hearing loss may be experienced differently by one person and another, but we all know very well how this condition affects the way a person communicates, behaves, and fosters relationship with other people and the world they live in.

We could just imagine: A child not being able to hear his or her parents’ voices; A mother or father unable to listen to his own child’s voice; Or an elderly incapable to remember his own or anyone’s voice anymore.

We may be unable to fully comprehend about their condition, but we know that they deserve all the support and help that we can provide.

As we hold our event today, we not only recognize the unfortunate reality that a great number of Filipinos and many more worldwide live with deafness or hearing loss, but we also attest the need to strengthen our preventive measures and bolster medical care in addressing this condition.

I speak before experts and advocates in the medical field who know very well about deafness and hearing loss better than I do. And I would therefore be preaching to the choir if I talk about the urgency of this health issue.

I am here as a legislator, and as such, it is my utmost responsibility to create laws that will deal with specific issues and problems in our country that require timely and appropriate policies and actions.

This is also my last year that I am serving as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, a role that has allowed me and my colleagues in the Senate to recommend changes in our national budget, prioritize projects and programs that we deem should be the primary concern of our government.

So to all the doctors, scientists, leaders, and advocates present here today:  Lend me your thoughts. Let us all help each other bring positive change and instill the necessary measures to prevent and provide care to those who suffer from deafness and hearing loss.

“Hear the Future” is this year’s theme for World Hearing Day, and it draws our attention towards the expected rise in the number of people with hearing loss across the world.[1]

In our gathering today, we echo the global call to prevent this increase and ensure that people with deafness and hearing loss are provided with the necessary rehabilitation services and communication tools to aid them in their daily lives.

The future of humanity rests upon our present actions, and we certainly need to put measures in place now if we want to ensure that every child in the future is able to communicate and connect with the people and the world as freely as possible.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 360 million people or 5.3% of the world’s population with disabling hearing loss. Of this, 91% are adults and 9% are children, or 328 million adults and 32 million children all over the world.[2]

The prevalence of disabling hearing loss in children, ages 0 until 14, is greatest in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region where the Philippines belongs to.[3]

The WHO also estimates that 1.1 billion young people, ages 12 to 35 years, are at risk of hearing loss because of unsafe listening practices, which include exposure to loud sounds from audio devices and noisy venues in entertainment places, workplace, or even at home.[4]

In the Philippines, hearing impairment was reported to be 17% or 97,957 per 577,345 population based on the National Registry of the Department of Health (DOH) in 1997.[5]

Moreover, the nationwide survey on hearing disability and ear disorders conducted by Better Hearing Philippines in 2005 estimates the prevalence of hearing disability at 8.8% of the general population, citing wax problem, otitis media, and non-infectious conditions as the leading causes. Prevalence of hearing impairment, including mild forms of hearing loss, was at 28%.[6]

Furthermore, the study of Dr. Charlotte Chiong, Director of the Philippine National Ear Institute, reported “at least eight profoundly hearing deaf babies are born everyday in the Philippines or one deaf baby born every three hours.”[7]

Early detection and prevention will be crucial in bringing down this statistic. Dr. Chiong emphasized that hearing intervention is critical before the age of six months. Without intervention at this age, hearing impaired children will experience some form of language delay or that their level of speech comprehension and speech development will be lower.[8]

When undiagnosed before six months, children also do poorly in school, and may suffer psychosocially due to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem.

There is also the need for longer intervention and special education for these children before they can be mainstreamed into regular schools as compared to those diagnosed and habilitated before six months.[9]

Globally, the WHO estimates that for children under 15 years of age, 60% of hearing loss is attributable to preventable causes, including infections such as mumps, measles, rubella, meningitis, cytomegalovirus infections, and chronic otitis media; complications at the time of birth, such as birth asphyxia, low birth weight, prematurity, and jaundice; and use of ototoxic medicines in expecting mothers and babies.[10]

The call to strengthen efforts in addressing this health issue was reiterated on May 31, 2017 during the 70th World Health Assembly, which unanimously approved and adopted a Resolution on the Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss.[11]

The Resolution, among others, acknowledges that majority of the people with hearing loss live in low and middle-income countries that lack the resources and strategies to address it.

It also states that most of the causes of hearing loss are “avoidable with preventive strategies—that the interventions available are both successful and cost-effective—but that, despite this, most people with ear diseases and hearing loss do not have access to suitable services.”

Allow me to highlight a few important provisions urging greater action from member-states.

The Resolution calls on governments to integrate strategies for ear and hearing care within the framework of primary health care systems or under the umbrella of universal health coverage.

It also urges member-states to develop, implement, and monitor screening programs for early identification of ear diseases in high-risk populations, including infants, young children, older adults, and people exposed to noise in occupational and recreational settings.

Furthermore, it encourages improved access to affordable and cost-effective assistive hearing technologies and products, as part of universal health coverage; as well as the promotion of alternative methods of communication.

It is a resolution that supports the attainment of our goals in our 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly: Goal 3, which is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; and Goal 4, which is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Certainly, this resolution will further inform our national policies and sustain our efforts to address hearing loss in our country.

As early as 2003, during my first term as legislator, I authored Republic Act 9245 which created the Philippine Ear Research Institute.  The law mandates the Ear Institute to conduct institution and community-based epidemiological studies related to deafness and balance disorders and initiate, conduct, monitor and evaluate researches dealing with curative, rehabilitative and preventive aspects of hearing and vestibular disorders, among others.

In 2004, we have already enacted Republic Act 9288 or the “Newborn Screening Act of 2004”, which I authored, that seeks to ensure that every baby born in the Philippines is offered the opportunity to undergo newborn screening and thus be spared from heritable conditions that can lead to mental retardation, serious health complications, or death if left undetected and untreated.[12]

It also emphasizes the parents’ responsibility in promoting their child’s right to health and full development by protecting their child from preventable causes of disability and death through newborn screening.

This legislation is complemented by Republic Act 9709 or the “Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 2009”, which I also authored, to establish measures to ensure that newborns and children who are deaf or hard of hearing have access to prevention, and early diagnosis of congenital hearing loss considering their “unique language, learning and communication needs.”[13]

Through this legislation, a Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Program (UNHSP) was established to institutionalize measures for the prevention and early diagnosis of congenital hearing loss among newborns and the provision of support services for families of newborns with hearing loss by affording them all the opportunities to be productive members of the community.

While we have already passed these laws to prevent our newborns from hearing loss, we can certainly do more.

In this 17th Congress, I have filed Senate Bill 1257 or the “Act to Protect Filipino Pregnant and Lactating Mothers, Infants, and Young Children During the First 1000 Days of Life.”

Another proposed measure that seeks to help our hearing-impaired fellow Filipinos is Senate Bill 900, filed by Sen. JV Ejercito, which provides telecommunications systems accessibility to the hearing-impaired and speech-impaired.

Health and nutrition programs in every barangay shall be established, along with the strengthening of the National Nutrition Council (NNC) as the policy-making body in nutrition to secure the implementation of programs to protect mothers and their infants.

For this year, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, I have ensured sufficient funding of the Universal Healthcare Program under Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) so that all Filipinos, including those not enrolled in PhilHealth, can access healthcare services in all government hospitals.

It is indeed the government’s responsibility to protect and promote the rights of every Filipino to life and survival and to provide them with equal opportunity to thrive as productive members of our society. But we certainly need your help in nurturing the kind of life we want for our children and fellow Filipinos.

As we gather today for our symposium on World Hearing Day and the 10th International Academic Conference in Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology (ORLIAC), we want to sustain and forge new partnerships with scientists, leaders, and experts in the various fields of health.

We want your academic research and recent technological advances in your respective fields inform our government’s actions in order to save lives and provide care for all Filipinos.

We must develop and promote sustainable and effective solutions to deafness and hearing loss, as well as communicate the importance of hearing care, especially among the youth.

We should amplify our call and inspire many more others in our cause and advocacy.

We can certainly do more to prevent and reconnect the people who feel isolated from this same world that we share and live in.

Let us all work together towards achieving these goals.

Thank you very much.

[1] World Hearing Day

[2] World Health Organization (WHO)

[3] WHO global estimates on prevalence of hearing loss

[4] Make Listening Safe, a report by the WHO,

[5] Better Hearing Philippines

[6] Ibid.


[8] Ibid.

[9] Explanatory note, SBN 1372 filed by Senator Loren Legarda in the 14th Congress, the proposed Hearing Loss Screening Act of 20017, later enacted as Republic Act 9709, the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 2009.


[11] Resolution on the Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss, adopted at the 70th World Health Assembly, 31 May 2017,

[12] Republic Act No. 9288 or the “Newborn Screening Act of 2004”

[13] Republic Act No. 9709 or the “Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 2009”