WHO calls for global disability action plan

News release

Not enough is being done to address the rights and ensure inclusion of people with disabilities in society. This was one of the conclusions of the sixty-fourth session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, held in Manila on 21–25 October. WHO believes that a global disability action plan aimed at improving the health of people with disabilities is an important step in addressing this issue.

“Disability affects more than one billion people worldwide, and prevalence will increase with population ageing and chronic health conditions,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Low-income countries have a higher prevalence of disability, and people with disabilities experience widespread barriers in accessing services, including health. The health sector must act not only to prevent disability, but also to meet the needs and rights of those with disabilities.”

Barriers to services are linked to inadequate legislation or policy, the physical environment, inaccessible information and communications technology, and societal attitudes. These barriers contribute to the disadvantages experienced by people with disabilities, but they can be overcome.

WHO is seeking to devise a global disability action plan to help Member States adopt policies that address barriers and promote better health for people with disabilities. WHO knows greater access to mainstream health and rehabilitation services can assist people with disabilities to function and participate in society and ultimately choose the life they want.

WHO hopes the action plan will help Member States translate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into concrete measures that address current challenges. Recommendations from the action plan include:

  • to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
  • to ensure mainstream health services are accessible and inclusive;
  • to strengthen and expand rehabilitation;
  • to increase access to assistive devices;
  • to strengthen community-based rehabilitation approaches; and
  • to increase data collection and integration with health information systems.

“Access to assistive devices, such as hearing aids, low vision devices, prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs allows people with disabilities to open doors—doors to community participation and opportunity, and away from isolation and poverty,” said Dr Shin. A recent example of increasing access to assistive devices is the Philippines Health Insurance Corporation's 2013 decision to expand its coverage to include prosthetic lower limbs.

The global disability action plan will build on the work of WHO and its collaborating centres in devising guidelines and reporting progress, such as the World Report on Disability 2011, the Community-based Rehabilitation: CBR Guidelines (2010) and the Guidelines on the provision of manual wheelchairs in less-resourced settings (2008). WHO is developing a model disability survey to address data and information needs to understand the disability situation in Member States. Later this month, WHO will organize a consultation to work out the development and implementation details of the global disability action plan for Member States in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

For further information or to request for an interview, please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
Telephone.: +632 528 8001
E-mail: serranor@wpro.who.int