The burden of health inequities on persons with disabilities

The burden of health inequities on persons with disabilities
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A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows how health inequities are affecting many persons with disabilities compared to others in society.

The paper, called the Global report on health equity for persons with disabilities, shows that because of systematic and persistent health inequities, many persons with disabilities risk premature death with data showing this could be up to 20 years earlier than persons without disabilities.

The report, launched ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, outlines that the number of people with significant disabilities worldwide has risen to 1.3 billion (or one in six people). This figure indicates the necessity of embedding inclusion, accessibility and non-discrimination into society and healthcare.

Health inequities are affecting disease outcomes

The report outlines the need for urgent action to address health inequities in healthcare caused by factors within the system. These factors, which contribute to many of the difference’s health outcomes between persons with and without disabilities, could include:

  • negative attitudes of healthcare providers,
  • health information in formats that cannot be understood, or
  • difficulties accessing a health centre due to the physical environment, lack of transport or financial barriers.

“Health systems should be alleviating the challenges that people with disabilities face, not adding to them,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This report shines a light on the inequities that people with disabilities face in trying to access the care they need. WHO is committed to supporting countries with the guidance and tools they need to ensure all people with disabilities have access to quality health services.”

Whilst around 80% of persons with disabilities live in low- and middle-income countries where healthcare is limited, this could be challenging to address health inequities. However, even with limitations, the healthcare system can still do more to reduce the burden for persons with disabilities.

Aiming for a disability-inclusive society

The report outlines 40 actions across the health sector for governments to take, building on data collected from various academic studies and consultations across countries and civil societies.

Ensuring health equity for persons with disabilities will have wider benefits and advance global healthcare in three ways:

  • health equity for all is critical towards achieving universal health coverage;
  • inclusive public health interventions that are administered equitably across different sectors can contribute to healthier populations; and
  • advancing health equity for persons with disabilities is a central component in all efforts to protect everyone in health emergencies.

“Addressing health inequities for persons with disabilities benefits everyone,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, WHO Director for Noncommunicable Diseases. “Older persons, people with noncommunicable diseases, migrants and refugees, or other frequently unreached populations, can benefit from approaches that target the persistent challenges to disability inclusion in the health sector.”

She added: “We urge governments, health partners and civil society to ensure all health sector actions are inclusive of persons with disabilities so that they can enjoy their right to the highest standard of health.”


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