INTERNATIONAL DAY OF DISABLED PERSONS: 3 DECEMBER
IS THERE EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE WITH
A RECENT WHO REPORT SUMS UP THE SITUATION
On the occasion of the International Day of
Disabled Persons, 3 December, the World Health Organization (WHO) will
publish a report on the health of disabled persons. Its main purpose
is to identify the various government policies on disability and
problems with implementation of strategies in order to meet the needs
of people with disabilities and ultimately to give them equality of
WHO estimates that between 7% and 10% of the world’s
population lives with disabilities which means almost 500 million
people. The vast majority of them, about 80%, live in developing
countries, where only 1% to 2% have access to the necessary
"In matters of health, everyone should be
treated equally. Yet, people with disabilities have been discriminated
against throughout history. Their participation in life and social
activities has been restricted. This has to change." Dr Gro
Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, stated.
In 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations
adopted 22 Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for
Persons with Disabilities; four of those rules are directly related to
health: medical care, rehabilitation, support services; and personnel
training. Those rules form the basis of the questionnaire that WHO
sent last May to all its Member States and to the main Disabled People’s
Organizations (DPOs) through its six Regional
offices and its hundred or so
National offices. One hundred and four of the 191 Member States of WHO
responded as did 115 (DPOs).
This report shows that at least
95% of the 104 countries who responded claim to offer medical care to
disabled people, some 30% have no rehabilitation services at all.
Forty-six out of 95 countries do not cater for disabled people in
primary health care services, which is not in line with WHO
recommendations on the subject.
One third of countries who responded do not provide
adequate training for staff who work with disabled people. Many
countries do not cover disability in training curricula for health
professionals. General practitioners in 20 countries, nurses in 21
countries, paediatricians in 26 countries and social workers in 12
countries receive no such training. WHO recommends that this be
rapidly remedied, at least for nurses, since they are the ones who
provide most of the medical care and rehabilitation services for
There are major disparities between countries (industralized
and developing) and within countries (urban and rural areas) as
regards access to medical care including the presence of qualified
staff. Apart from general practitioners, nurses predominate, while
specialists such as orthopaedists, speech therapists, psychologists
and paediatricians are few and tend to be found in the cities.
Disabled people, therefore, have to travel often far to centres with
the appropriate human and material resources.
Participation of disabled people’s organizations
(DPOs) in the planning and evaluation of health services is
inadequate: only 3 out of 103 countries involve them fully, and 12
countries report that they never consult them. The report also
stresses the personal involvement of disabled people and their
families in managing disability, while most of those families are
The report reveals that governments, by and large,
make adequate provision for items such as crutches, hearing aids and
This report is intended to be used by political
decision-makers, health programme administrators and specialists in
the rehabilitation of disabled people, since it analyzes the policy of
each of the 104 countries with regard to the four rules. Through this
report, WHO hopes to help States that wish to do so to make, when
necessary, improvements to services for disabled people. In this way
WHO contributes to the establishment of the Standard Rules in the
field of health.
WHO maintains that disability should not be seen as
a matter of concern to the disabled persons and their entourage alone.
Disability concerns the whole of society, in terms of the legislation,
education and services which should be promoted if the disabled
persons are to be fully integrated; the environment should be adapted
to their needs whenever necessary. The report advocates that countries
increase their efforts to ensure that children and adults with
disabilities gain access to better medical care, which will help them
to participate in the life of their community.
information, journalists may contact Fadéla Chaïb at the Office of
the Spokesperson WHO, Geneva. Tel: (+41 22) 791 3228; Fax: (+41 22)
791 4858; e-mail: chaïbf@who.int.
Or Eva Sandborg, Disability and Rehabilitation Team ( DAR), WHO,
Geneva. Tel: (+41 22) 791 3661; Fax: (+41 22) 791 4874; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All WHO Press Releases; Fact Sheets and Features as well as other
information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO
home page: http://www.who.int