Monday March 04, 2024

Health inequities cause premature deaths for persons with disabilities: WHO

"Many differences in health outcomes cannot be explained by underlying health conditions, but by avoidable, unfair factors," WHO says

By Web Desk
December 03, 2022
Portrait of a Brazilian student in a sports court. He is a wheelchair user, wearing a white shirt and blue shorts. — UNICEF
Portrait of a Brazilian student in a sports court. He is a wheelchair user, wearing a white shirt and blue shorts. — UNICEF

People with disabilities run the risk of dying up to 20 years earlier than other groups in society, revealed a new report released by the World Health Organization on Friday.

“Many persons with disabilities die earlier, some up to 20 years earlier, and more are at risk — double the risk — of developing a range of health conditions compared to the general population,” said Darryl Barrett, WHO's Technical Lead for Sensory Functions, Disability and Rehabilitation, reported the United Nations.

Despite recent improvements, systemic and persistent health inequities still exist, and many people with disabilities are more likely to experience chronic conditions. This is shown in the Global Report on Health Equity, which was released just before the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

"Many of the differences in health outcomes cannot be explained by the underlying health condition or impairment, but by avoidable, unfair and unjust factors," the WHO said in a press release.

"There's also a higher incidence of diseases such as tuberculosis, diabetes, stroke, sexually transmitted infections, and cardiovascular problems among persons with disabilities," UN quoted Barrett as saying.

“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," Ghebreyesus was quoted by the UN.

Barret said that the new global prevalence estimates for significant disability are also included in this report and they place the number at 1.3 billion people, or about 16% of the world's population, at the current rate.

Addressing health inequities may be difficult given that an estimated 80% of people with disabilities reside in low- and middle-income countries with few health resources. But according to WHO, even with limited resources, much can be accomplished.

The study demonstrates the financial benefit of funding a health sector that accepts people with disabilities. According to a WHO estimate, governments may anticipate a $10 return on investment for every dollar spent on noncommunicable disease prevention and care.

The report recommends 40 steps for governments to take in the health sector, based on the most recent data from academic studies as well as discussions with nations and civil society, including organisations that advocate for people with disabilities. 

These initiatives range from improving the physical infrastructure to training healthcare professionals, depending on the available resources.