On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed on December 3, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization welcomes recent progress in its member countries in improving access to health and rehabilitation for people with disabilities and to safeguard their rights.
Washington, D.C., 3 December 2014 (PAHO/WHO) — On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed on December 3, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization welcomes recent progress in its member countries in improving access to health and rehabilitation for people with disabilities and to safeguard their rights.
An estimated 140 million people in the Americas live with some form of disability, but only 3% have access to rehabilitation services. In October, ministers of health from throughout the Americas pledged to begin closing that gap by implementing a regional Plan of Action on Disabilities and Rehabilitation. It calls for a stronger, more integrated health sector response in supporting persons with disabilities, their families, and caregivers.
Guyana, Mexico, and Chile are among countries in the region that have made progress in recent months in advancing the goals of the regional plan, by making health and rehabilitation services more accessible, improving data collection, and implementing a new, community-based model of rehabilitation services.
In early November, Guyana launched a new National Rehabilitation Services Strategic Plan. It seeks to advance the well-being of all people with disabilities in Guyana while reducing health inequities and strengthening the capacity of the health system to deliver high-quality, effective, and responsive disability and rehabilitation services. The plan is aligned with the WHO global agenda for health and disability, and encourages partnerships between all levels of government and nongovernment agencies. PAHO/WHO provided technical support for Guyana's creation of a bachelor´s degree program rehabilitation services at the University of Guyana, intended to increase the number of trained professionals in the field.
Mexico's Chiapas state has begun implementing a new community-based model of rehabilitation services, which was developed by a group of government and nongovernmental institutions with technical cooperation from PAHO/WHO. The model was formally launched in October 2014 in the municipality of Comitan, where it will be implemented first.
Chile has announced plans to become the world's first country to apply nationwide the proposed Disability Survey developed by WHO and the World Bank to capture data on the prevalence and characteristics of disabilities as well as the rights of people with disabilities. In mid-November, experts and professionals from Chile's National Disabilities Services (SENADIS), the National Statistics Institute, the Ministry of Social Development, and the Ministry of Health met to analyze the model, which will be applied in the Second National Disability Study. Other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are considering implementing this model as well.
"These three initiatives are examples of concrete action to advance the goals of the regional plan of action for people with disabilities, which calls on countries to make disability a priority in their health policies and ensure universal, equitable access to health services for people with disabilities and their families," said Dr. Armando Vasquez, PAHO/WHO regional advisor on disabilities.
The five-year regional plan of action calls on PAHO member countries to:
- Promote equity in policies and plans on disability and develop national plans in which all sectors—including health, social protection, education, labor, and human rights protection—coordinate efforts to meet the needs of people with disabilities
- Support civil society participation to ensure that people with disabilities are consulted during the drafting of policies that affect them
- Strengthen rehabilitation services within community-based health services, to ensure prevention, detection, and early intervention as well as access to assistive technologies and other support
- Ensure appropriate health care for the particular needs of people with disabilities
- Support caregivers and addressing their own health needs
- Gather and analyze data on disabilities and support research and its use for decision-making.
The plan calls on PAHO/WHO to help countries prepare, review, and implement their national disability and rehabilitation plans; collaborate in evaluating programs and services; promote partnerships with international organizations and other regional entities to involve all sectors in the response; and disseminate information and best practices among the countries.
Disability in the Americas
- 140 million people are living with disabilities in the Americas
- Only 3% have access to rehabilitation services
- 3% of newborns have impairments that can be detected and treated with early interventions, preventing permanent disability
- Only 25% of children with disabilities have access to education, and only 5% finish primary school
- Women report a higher rate of disability than men, especially from age 60 onward
- Women devote more time to the care of family members with disabilities.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Established by the United Nations, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is commemorated on 3 December to promote greater understanding of disability issues and to mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
- WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan's message on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2014
- Health leaders from the Americas pledge to improve access to health services for people with disabilities (PAHO press release)
- PAHO Plan of Action on Disabilities and Rehabilitation (CD 53/7)
- Disabilities and rehabilitation (WHO)