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New WHO report finds serious health disparities for people with disabilities

Health Inclusion Rehabilitation Rights
International

On 2nd December, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the Global Report on Health Equity for Persons with Disabilities, highlighting the ongoing barriers faced by persons with disabilities to access health information and services.

Philemon, 11 years, had his leg amputated after an accident with a truck close to his house in Goma, North Kivu. He is receiving rehabilitation and psychosocial support from HI's team.

Philemon, 11 years, had his leg amputated after an accident with a truck close to his house in Goma, North Kivu. He is receiving rehabilitation and psychosocial support from HI's team. | © Patrick Meinhardt / HI

The WHO's new Global Report on Health Equity for Persons with Disabilities highlights the ongoing barriers faced by persons with disabilities to access health information and services.

The report provides fresh evidence and raises awareness on health equity for persons with disabilities. It was developed in consultation with Member States and disability and health sector stakeholders.

As a humanitarian organisation working alongside persons with disabilities for 40 years and present in 60 countries, Humanity & Inclusion worked closely with WHO on this report.

1.3 billion people – that is 16% of the global population, or 1 in 6 people – experience a significant disability. 80% of persons with disabilities live in low and middle income countries.

Main findings of the report

The Global Report on Health Equity for Persons with Disabilities, finds that people with disabilities are:

  • two times more likely to find health care providers’ skills and facilities inadequate
  • three times more likely to be denied health care, and
  • four times more likely to be treated badly in health care facilities.

In addition it shows that:

  • Persons with disabilities face premature death - up to 20 years earlier than persons without disabilities in some instances (see Chapter 2 or the report).
  • Researchers note a higher incidence of diseases in persons with disabilities compared to persons without disabilities. This is due to limited or delayed access to health services, and  includes conditions such as tuberculosis, diabetes, stroke, sexually transmitted infections, or cardiovascular problems.
  • Health inequities are not only due to disability, but to the obstacles and stigma that persons face to access health care.
  • The report reverses the narrative that health and inclusive health is a financial burden. The report shows that there could be nearly $10 return per $1 spent on implementing disability inclusive prevention and care for non-communicable diseases (Chapter 1).

Why HI works to promote inclusive healthcare

"Persons with disabilities have equal rights to health information and services but often encounter barriers to accessing them. Barriers include physical, communication, attitudinal and financial barriers. Buildings may not be adapted to receive users with disabilities - there is no ramp for wheelchair user or lifts are not available."

says Dr. Alessandra Aresu, Humanity & Inclusion's Global inclusive Health Director

"Practitioners may consider that persons with disabilities should be cared in specialised centres and refuse to consult them. This violates the right to health of persons with disabilities and poses a real threat to their health."

"Humanity & Inclusion works to promote inclusive health policies, the training of health staff on disability inclusion in the health sector, and equal access to care. We work with persons with disabilities and their representative organisations to promote health equity."

The importance of access to rehabilitation

Valentina Pomatto, HI's Inclusive Development Advocacy Manager, adds:

“Persons with disabilities should access healthcare and information, on an equal basis with others. This includes access to rehabilitation services and assistive technology."

"Access to rehabilitation is often difficult, because there are no or very few professionals in that sector, or services are not available in a given area or even country."

"When people are unable to receive rehabilitation and continuity of care, their condition is likely to deteriorate further and exclusion will increase. Rehabilitation services, including the provision of assistive technology, enable people to pursue or return to education, work and participate in all aspects of life.”

Barriers to accessing rehabilitation services

Globally, 2.4 billion people, live with health conditions that would benefit from rehabilitation. But more than 50% of people, in particular in low and middle-income countries, have unmet needs for rehabilitation. 

For persons with disabilities, barriers to access are so significant that, in some countries, only 3-5% of people are able to access the rehabilitation services they need.

In addition, only 5 to 15 % of people have access to mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies due to significant barriers such as lack of professionals, discriminatory attitudes, inaccessible buildings, the unaffordable cost of services, and inaccessible information about available services.

Date published: 07/12/22

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