SEATTLE, Washington — According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the lack of healthcare services and resources available to the disability community is a global public health issue. In 2013, 80% of people with disabilities resided in low-income contexts. Within low-income countries that already struggle to provide enough healthcare for the general population, people with disabilities are both more likely to need health services and face barriers toward receiving those services. The recent implementation of the WHO Global Disability Action Plan has initiatives that help eliminate these barriers and enact positive change within the disability community.
Effects of Disability on the Health of an Individual
In comparison to those without disabilities, people within the disability community often have poorer health due to a multitude of factors. Having a disability does not equate to being unhealthy, but some progressive impairments impact an individual’s health and functioning over time, such as muscular dystrophy.
Moreover, much of the disability community is impacted by secondary health conditions, including the increased risk for pressure sores for people with spinal cord injuries. As seen in individuals with long-term physical disabilities, comorbidities present can also make an individual two to three times more likely to develop a mental illness. Impoverished people with disabilities are especially at higher risk of experiencing nutritional deficiencies.
Barriers to Healthcare Services
General healthcare services along with additional services to treat any subsequent health conditions are required by the disability community. Unfortunately, within many developing countries, people with disabilities are less likely to receive as many servies as those without disabilities due to the many barriers present. Moreover, prevention and health promotion programs, such as cervical and breast cancer screening, reach out far less to the disability community.
The cost of healthcare is higher for those with disabilities as additional services and transportation accommodations are often needed. Nearly 53% of people with disabilities cannot pay for these services in low-income countries. People within the disability community are at higher risk of falling into poverty as their opportunities for education and employment are limited, and therefore, they may be unable to afford healthcare services while living in poverty.
Additionally, there is a deficiency of healthcare services and skilled workers across many developing countries. The growing problem for poorer, rural populations is that these remote areas principally have limited healthcare infrastructure and public transportation available. For example, quantitative surveys in the rural region of Madwaleni, South Africa, demonstrated that the rates of healthcare needs that are unmet are higher in the disability community as a result of inadequate services.
It is not always the lack of healthcare services available that is a barrier to the disability community in receiving care, but the lack of information on the availability of healthcare services. People with disabilities in developing countries are often not provided information on the available disability services in mainstream settings. Particularly, individuals who are part of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and those with visual impairments may be unable to utilize printed materials to disseminate information about healthcare services.
Breaking Down Barriers: The WHO Global Disability Action Plan
In 2014, WHO began its Global Disability Action Plan, which will be carried out through 2021. WHO’s primary goal is “to contribute to achieving optimal health, functioning, well-being and human rights for all persons with disabilities.” One of the plan’s foremost objectives is to increase access to healthcare services, both mainstream and specialized, within underserved communities and to remove the aforementioned healthcare barriers faced by the disability community. The report proposed actions for all member states and WHO partners.
The Global Disability Action Plan predicts that the prevalent disparities in low-income countries’ healthcare systems can be reduced by creating more inclusive, accessible services. Increasing public awareness of disability and the availability of services can facilitate improvements in health care for the global disability community. Introducing community-based rehabilitation, especially in rural populations, is recommended under the WHO report. An important advancement in the development of these services comes from WHO’s statement that the “successful removal of barriers and improvement in access to health services require input from persons with disabilities.”
In 2021, the Global Disability ActionPlan’s final yearn, progress will be evaluated in participating countries. The future of healthcare advocacy for the disability community will be shaped by the results of strategy and program development. Solving this global health crisis can promote a more inclusive world and improve the lives of people with disabilities.