World Hearing Day, initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO), is celebrated on March 3 each year. Its objective is to raise awareness about the prevention of deafness and hearing loss and to promote hearing prevention worldwide. The main celebration is held annually at WHO headquarters in Geneva. More and more member countries and partner agencies have joined World Hearing Day by organizing numerous activities and events in their countries. Untreated hearing loss is the leading cause of morbidity and generates an annual cost of $750 billion worldwide.
The slogan for this year’s large-scale campaign is “To hear for life, listen with care!” It has been estimated that more than 1 billion people suffer from various hearing impairments affecting their everyday communication. The overwhelming majority of them live in low- and middle-income countries with no access to essential medical services. WHO data also shows that worldwide on average 83% of people who should be using hearing aids do not use them. Unless effective prevention and treatment measures are taken, by 2050, the number of people with severe hearing loss alone will exceed 900 million.
During World Hearing Day 2022, WHO will focus on safe listening to maintain good hearing throughout life. Indeed, many common causes of hearing loss can be prevented, including hearing loss caused by exposure to loud sounds, and safe listening can reduce the risk of noise-related hearing loss.
In 2021 WHO published the World Hearing Report, which highlighted the growing number of people living with and at risk of hearing loss. Prof. Henryk Skarżyński, Director of the Institute of Hearing Physiology and Pathology, notes that these numbers could be much higher due to the increasing severity of hearing damage in Covid-19 patients.
– The situation has been changing very dynamically in the last 2 years. – emphasizes Prof. H. Skarżyński. – At the beginning of the pandemic, the hearing disorders were similar to those in other patients with upper respiratory tract infections. Changes on the surface of mucous membranes in the nose, nasopharynx, auditory tubes, and middle ear effusion caused progressive hearing loss, resulting from swelling and fluid accumulation in the middle ears. With the nasal sinus infections regression, ear lesions usually disappeared, and hearing loss was restored. It was most noticeable in the children who had already gotten over the disease and were subject to subsequent throat or nose infections. Last year, we observed another disturbing phenomenon following Covid-19 infection in children and adults. This involved unilateral or bilateral hearing impairment following permanent damage to inner ear function. There was even complete unilateral or bilateral deafness in many such cases, requiring surgical intervention. – adds Professor Skarżyński.
However, the positive fact is that Polish patients are the first, or one of the first in the world, to have access to all the latest technologies and pioneer clinical procedures. Specialists from the World Center can help almost everyone, putting an end to their world of silence, loneliness and isolation. For almost 20 years, the World Hearing Center has performed the most significant number of hearing surgeries in the world. Last year it also performed the most significant number of hearing implant surgeries globally for patients with different types of deafness.
It is essential to me to enable deaf and profoundly hard of hearing people to be still socially active. And those who were born deaf could develop their hearing, speech, learning new languages and other skills, e.g. artistic ones. – says Prof. Henryk Skarżyński. – That is why I was pleased to hear that on March 3, exactly on World Hearing Day, a great premiere will take place. We invite all Polish viewers to the cinemas to see the “Sonata” movie, made under our honorary patronage. It is a true story of my patient and an exceptional musician Grzegorz Płonka from Murzasichle. The film shows an incredible, based on facts, and very moving way of a young man to achieve something seemingly impossible.
This is a true story. Grzegorz Płonka (Michał Sikorski), after years of living in complete silence, thanks to his parents’ determination (Małgorzata Foremniak, Łukasz Simlat), the support of a group of good people and an implant procedure at the Hearing Physiology and Pathology Institute of Prof. Henryk Skarżyński (Jerzy Stuhr), regained his hearing and could fulfil his biggest dream – play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. A directorial debut of Bartosz Blaschke, won the Audience Award and an individual award for Michał Sikorski for the Professional Acting Debut at the 46th Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.
Grzegorz Plonka has been a patient of the World Hearing Center of the Institute of Hearing Physiology and Pathology since 2007. For many years the boy was incorrectly diagnosed. Only at the age of 13 he was diagnosed with severe sensorineural hearing loss. Before that, he was suspected of autism and profound mental retardation. “When I got the implant, it was something I didn’t expect – I heard birds singing. And I wanted to listen to them all the time.” – Gregory recalls. – “Everything changed with the implant. Everything was new. I started listening playing with sounds, and I just fell in love with music. Thanks to the implant, today I can hear the whole orchestra, flutes, high notes.” He learned to play Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata through hard work.” And he became the winner of the 1st International Music Festival for Children, Youth and Adults with Hearing Disorders, “Beats of Cochlea” in 2015. Grzegorz graduated from primary music school, underwent IT courses, released his own album, and ran his YouTube channel. He is interested in photography, taking pictures of plants and mountains. He learned how to tune a piano on his own. However, for Prof. Henryk Skarżyński and his team, Grzegorz will remain first and foremost an ambassador of achievements in the treatment of hearing disorders owing to progress in sciences and medicine.
In 2017, Barbara Kaczyńska, MA, Prof. Henryk Skarżyński and the Institute team produced a documentary on Grzegorz Płonka entitled: “My Moonlight Sonata”, which during the Festival of Documentary Forms NURT in Kielce, received the Annual Special Award of Radio Kielce “for the artistry of sound in documentary form”. The artistic achievements of Prof. Henryk Skarżyński’s patients were presented in the “Interrupted Silence” musical staged in 2019 by the Warsaw Chamber Opera. The libretto was written by Professor Skarżyński with music composed by Prof. Krzesimir Dębski, and it was directed by Michał Znaniecki. Prof. Henryk Skarżyński also describes many achievements of his patients in his movie novel “Return of Beethoven” published a year ago.