Disabilities and rehabilitation

Governments to agree increased focus on people with disabilities in development strategies

20 SEPTEMBER 2013 | GENEVA - WHO welcomes the forthcoming agreement at a High-Level Meeting at the United Nations General Assembly which will further improve access to health care and related services for people with disabilities and ensure that they are able to contribute to the sustainable development of their communities.

On 23 September, Heads of State – in their first-ever global meeting on this topic – are scheduled to recommend:

  • including people with disabilities in the setting and implementation of development agendas post-2015;
  • addressing the many barriers people with disabilities face in daily life – such as difficulties in accessing health-care services, including rehabilitation and assistive devices;
  • taking urgent action by all stakeholders, including the health sector, to ensure that all development policies benefit people with disabilities;
  • improving collection and analysis of data on disability and devising ways to use it more effectively to guide development policies and programmes.

Improving access to health care

The more than 1 billion people living worldwide with disabilities all have the same general health needs as non-disabled people – such as immunization, cancer screening and reproductive health services. They may also have specific disability-related health conditions, such as ulcers, urinary tract infections, paralysis and depression associated with spinal cord injury. Many people with disabilities require rehabilitation, such as support to regain strength following hospitalization for diabetic coma or provision of a prosthesis after a limb amputation.

“Too often, people with disabilities face barriers in accessing health and rehabilitation services,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “These include stigma and discrimination, lack of accessibility, and the inability to pay. The new UN agreement can help bring down such barriers.”

Today, people with disabilities are twice as likely to report that health care providers’ skills and facilities do not meet their needs. They are three times more likely to be denied health care and four times more likely to be treated badly in the health care system than people without disabilities.

Half the people living with disabilities worldwide are unable to afford the health care they need. They are 50% more likely than persons without disability to suffer catastrophic health expenditure, which pushes them into poverty.

Many people with disabilities are unable to access the assistive devices and related rehabilitation services they need. For example, 360 million people have moderate to profound hearing loss, but production of hearing aids meets only 10% of global need and 3% of developing country need; 200 million people need spectacles or low vision devices, but have no access to them. Some 70 million people need a wheelchair, yet only 5-15% have access to one.

The High-Level Meeting outcome document highlights the importance of:

  • making quality health services available and affordable to people with disabilities, whoever they are and wherever they live;
  • developing national disability policies and programmes that address the health and rehabilitation needs of people with disabilities, and allocating appropriate resources;
  • improving data to better understand these health and rehabilitation needs and monitor and evaluate the impact of policies and programmes.

WHO is already scaling up efforts in line with the outcome document by preparing a seven-year global action plan "Better health for persons with disabilities". The action plan is based on approaches that have proved effective in improving the health and well-being of people with disability.

The draft plan also builds on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the recommendations of the World report on disability (2011). It is currently being reviewed through a series of regional and targeted consultations and on an online consultation process which ends on 11 October 2013. It will be presented to the WHO Executive Board meeting in January 2014 in preparation for consideration at the Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly in May 2014.

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