A new report released today by WHO and UNICEF reveals that more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or apps that support communication and cognition. However, almost a billion of them do not have access to these products, especially in low- and middle-income countries, where access can represent up to 3% of the need for life-saving products.
The Global Assistive Technology Report presents for the first time evidence of global needs and access to assistive technology and provides a range of recommendations for expanding accessibility and accessibility, raising awareness of these needs and implementing inclusion policies to improve the lives of millions of people. people.
“Assistive technologies are changing lives; in fact, they give children with disabilities access to education, adults living with disabilities to have a job and social interaction, and the elderly to be independent and live in dignity, ”said WHO Director-General Dr.r Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Denying people access to these life-changing tools is not only a violation of human rights, it also shows economic short-sightedness. We call on all countries to fund and prioritize access to assistive technology and give everyone a chance to exploit their potential. »
“Nearly 240 million children are disabled. Denying children the right to access the products they need to thrive not only harms children but also deprives families and their communities of everything they could provide if their needs were met, “said Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Executive Director. well-being. »
The report indicates that the number of people in need of one or more assistive devices is expected to reach 3.5 billion by 2050 due to the aging of the population and the increase in the incidence of non-communicable diseases worldwide. The report also highlights the huge gap in access between low-income and high-income countries. An analysis of 35 countries shows that access varies from 3% in the poorest countries to 90% in rich countries.
Affordability is a major barrier to access, the report says. About two-thirds of people with assistive devices said they got them through self-payment. Others said they relied on family and friends to support themselves financially.
A study of 70 countries cited in the report found major gaps in the provision of services and workforce training for assistive technologies, particularly in the areas of cognition, communication and self-care. Previous studies published by the WHO point to a lack of awareness and prohibitive prices; lack of services; inadequate product quality, mix and quantity, and supply and supply chain challenges, which are major barriers.
Aids are generally seen as a way of participating in community life and society as a whole on an equal footing with others; Without these products, people suffer from exclusion, are at risk of isolation, live in poverty, suffer from hunger and are forced to rely more on the support of their families, communities and public authorities.
The positive impact of assistive devices goes beyond improving the health, well-being, participation and inclusion of individual users; families and communities also benefit. For example, expanding access to quality-assured, safe and affordable aids leads to reduced health and wellness costs, such as repeated hospital stays or services, and promotes a more productive workforce, which indirectly stimulates economic growth.
Access to assistive technologies for children with disabilities is often the first step in children’s development, access to education, participation in sport and community life and preparation for employment as their peers. Children with disabilities face additional challenges as they grow, requiring frequent adjustment or replacement of their assistive devices.
The report provides recommendations for concrete steps to be taken to improve access, including:
- Improving access to education, health and social security systems
- Ensure the availability, safety, effectiveness and affordability of assistive devices
- Expand, diversify and improve employee capacity
- Actively involve assistive technology users and their families
- Increase public awareness and combat stigma
- Invest in data and evidence-based policies
- Invest in research, innovation and an ecosystem that promotes access
- Establish enabling environments and invest in them
- Include assistive technologies in humanitarian efforts
- Provide technical and financial assistance through international cooperation to support the country’s efforts.
Note to editors
Aids is an umbrella term for aids and their related systems and services. Aids improve performance in all key functional areas such as mobility, hearing, self-care, vision, cognition and communication. It can be physical products, such as wheelchairs, prostheses or glasses, or software and digital applications. It can also be adaptations to the physical environment, such as movable ramps or grab bars.
People who need aids are people with disabilities; seniors; people with non-communicable diseases, including overlooked tropical diseases; people with mental illness; people with progressive functional loss or loss of inherent capacity and many people affected by humanitarian crises.