Humanity & Inclusion welcomes the Resolution on the Highest Attainable Standard of Health for Persons with Disabilities, recently adopted by the World Health Assembly. These commitments should not remain only on paper.
Persons with disabilities often encounter significant barriers to accessing health information and services, including physical, communication, attitudinal and financial barriers. Persons 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 poorly in health care facilities.
While the general health needs of persons with disabilities are the same as everyone else and can often be met by primary healthcare services, they may also have additional specific health needs, including access to rehabilitation and assistive devices such as wheelchairs, artificial limbs and visual supports. Despite greater needs, 50% of persons with disabilities cannot afford healthcare, facing a 50% higher risk, compared to persons without disabilities, of facing catastrophic healthcare costs.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities were significantly affected by the disruption of health services, and experienced greater difficulties in getting information on and implementing preventive measures such as accessing clean water and sinks and practicing social distancing. In addition, they might have been disqualified from receiving care due to the prioritization of treating Covid-19 patients.
In Jordan, 88% of those who responded to a survey conducted by Humanity & Inclusion in 2020 reported that they could not go to the hospital for their regular checks or additional medical needs.
WHA adopts crucial resolution
Recognizing the huge unmet health needs and the persistent exclusion of persons with disabilities from health care information and services, the resolution recently adopted by the World Health Assembly builds on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and reaffirms the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health, with no discrimination and on the basis of free and informed consent.
Organizations of persons with disabilities and other civil society organizations were consulted during the drafting process and provided critical input to the resolution. Humanity & Inclusion’s contribution was provided through the International Disability & Development Consortium and in partnership with the International Disability Alliance.
The resolution provides a set of important commitments for Member States to move toward more disability-inclusive health systems, including:
- consulting with, and actively involving persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, in decision making and designing programs;
- identifying and eliminating attitudinal, environmental and institutional obstacles and barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from accessing health;
- collecting health-related data, disaggregated by disability, age and sex, education level and household income to inform relevant policies and programs;
- developing and implementing policies and programs to improve access to rehabilitation, as well as affordable and quality assistive technology within universal health and/or social services coverage and to ensure their sustainability.
The resolution requests the World Health Organization (WHO) to produce, in close consultation with Member States and relevant stakeholders, a global report on the highest attainable standard of health for persons with disabilities by the end of 2022. WHO is also called to ensure the implementation of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, and the creation of an inclusive global research agenda.
Translating political commitment to action
As an organization with extensive experience in disability inclusion in health as well as in rehabilitation, Humanity & Inclusion believes this resolution can help make significant steps in both fields. However, Humanity & Inclusion recognizes that rehabilitation is an essential health strategy not only for some persons with disabilities, but also for many other people who experience limitations in their everyday functioning. Therefore, while Humanity & Inclusion welcomes the integration of rehabilitation in this resolution, the organization also highlights that the need for rehabilitation is bigger—estimated at 2.4 billion people globally—and requires additional, specific political commitment to ensure that health systems integrate rehabilitation and make it accessible to everyone in need.
The resolution comes at a crucial time, as the WHO global disability action plan expires and when Covid-19 has exacerbated existing inequities in accessing and receiving health care.
As the WHO, Member States and community organizations are paying efforts to “build back better,” they should look into building back more inclusively. This resolution provides a solid roadmap to advance in this direction, but it will remain an empty text if it is not followed by concrete and immediate actions.