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WHO Appeals for Guaranteed Services for Disabled - 2003-12-03

The United Nations says many of the estimated 600 million disabled people in the world suffer from discrimination and lack of access to health and rehabilitation services. To mark this year's International Day of Disabled Persons, the World Health Organization is urging governments, especially those in developing countries, to guarantee services and full participation to the disabled.

The World Health Organization says about one-quarter of the world's population is affected by disability either directly or indirectly. It says disability affects entire families, not just individuals.

A medical officer at WHO's Disability and Rehabilitation Program, Federico Montero, says 80 percent of the world's disabled people live in low-income countries.

The majority of them are the poorest of the poor, and Dr. Montero says their inability to access basic services, including rehabilitation facilities, makes it impossible for most to lead a relatively normal life.

“The lack of access to education,” he said. “Practically no access to transportation in many developing countries. If people have no access to transportation and no access to assisted devices, they cannot go to work. So, there is no access to work, no access to adequate living conditions.”

The WHO says disabled people are victims of discrimination, prejudice and ignorance. It says this strips them of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and denies them equal opportunity.

WHO notes the number of disabled people is increasing as a result of population growth and medical advances that are prolonging life. It says malnutrition, chronic conditions, HIV-AIDS, war and road injuries as well as land mines are adding to the number of disabilities.

WHO's Dr. Montero says community-based rehabilitation centers are a proven way to help the disabled in developing countries get the physical care they need. He says these centers also help them to become more fully functioning members of society.

“Community-based rehabilitation has a possibility of really providing possibilities to a larger amount of people with disabilities in poor areas of the countries,” said Federico Montero. “It is more affordable. It is something that really belongs to the communities. The communities have to take this strategy as their own activity. It is not an expensive alternative for many developing countries.“

For example, Dr. Montero notes that in Vietnam, 80 percent of people with disabilities are fully integrated into society, thanks to its community-based rehabilitation program. He says Eritrea also is successfully treating tens of thousands of disabled people through similar programs.