Keynote speech by Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the Meeting on Rehabilitation as Part of the Continuum of People-centered Health Care



Good morning. It is an honour to be part of this meeting on rehabilitation as part of the continuum of people-centred health care.

When most people discuss disability, they don't realize that disability is culturally defined. In fact, the legal definition changes from place to place.

This is why the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities does not define disability. Instead, countries determine what disability means in their context.

But we all understand disability in terms of function. WHO uses the word as a general term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions.

When we think of disability, we imagine people who use wheelchairs, canes, crutches or hearing aids.

However, all of us will have a disability. At one time or another, we all experience functional difficulties.

Impairments may take the form of problems with vision that require glasses —like the ones I am wearing now — to problems with memory or daily tasks, which can happen as part of ageing.

Economic developments and improvements in health systems mean that people are living longer. This trend is increasing the number of people with chronic health conditions that can contribute to disabilities.

As more people experience disabilities, the role of health and social services stakeholders will also increase. Every person who experiences disability must have access to necessary health services, such as rehabilitation.

WHO works with Member States in many areas to address health, well-being and disability. Rehabilitation as part of the continuum of people-centred health care is among the most important.

The WHO framework on integrated people-centred health services envisions all people having equal access to quality health services. This means that universal health coverage must include rehabilitation services — including assistive technologies — for all those in need.

For this to happen, however, several steps are critical.

We must engage health service users, particularly people with disabilities, to advocate stronger health systems with rehabilitation services.

We must strengthen governance and accountability so that providers, clients and users work together to improve the quality of care that is provided.

We must transform the model of care from inpatient to outpatient and ambulatory care to be able to serve everyone in a cost-effective manner. This will require better mechanisms for coordination and referral of patients.

And above all, leaders must foster enabling environments to engage a wide range of stakeholders. Strong and steady political will is as necessary as a responsive health workforce for building stronger, more inclusive health systems.

This process takes time and patience and hard work from people like you.

Keeping in mind that disability is a natural part of the human condition, and that all of us will experience disability at some point in life, we must make rehabilitation part of the continuum of people-centred health care.

The people in this group can make that happen. Discussions like this play a critical role.

As always, WHO is ready, willing and able to provide technical assistance to help achieve this important milestone in the development of universal health coverage.

Thank you.