Health services being provided in Myanmar

ReLAB-HS welcomes the passing of the World Health Assembly resolution on the highest attainable standard of health for persons with disabilities. The adoption of the Resolution at the 74th World Health Assembly today marks an important milestone, both for the equitable treatment of persons with disabilities and for future access to health services with no discrimination, including rehabilitation. It is estimated that 2.4 billion people globally need access to rehabilitation services alone.

The Resolution follows from the WHO global disability action plan 2014–2021: better health for all people with disability, and takes an ambitious yet practical approach, looking at what steps States can take to make health services more inclusive. It will act as a mechanism for action – a starting point which will guide governments globally.

The Resolution adopts a human rights approach informed by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), avoiding the medicalization of disability and instead focusing on equitable access to services and removing the barriers which can lead to inequality.

ReLAB-HS partner Humanity & Inclusion, through the International Disability and Development Consortium and in partnership with the International Disability Alliance, contributed to the consultations organized by the Geneva Permanent Missions of WHO Member States. Civil society organisations’ input was taken into consideration and meaningfully co-shaped the text of the Resolution.

Globally one in seven persons experience some form of disability, and this number continues to increase owing to many underlying factors such as population ageing and the rise in the prevalence of chronic health conditions. Persons with disabilities face persistent inequality in all spheres, are less likely to be able to get access to essential health services, and encounter more legal and attitudinal barriers in society, including discrimination and stigmatization. The Resolution outlines how member states can address this inequality in health outcomes in several, practical ways:

  • Incorporate a disability- and gender-sensitive and inclusive approach, consulting and actively involving persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision making and designing of health programmes.
  • Identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from accessing health services, health related information, skills and goods by: making health facilities accessible; training relevant professionals on the human rights, dignity, autonomy and needs of persons with disabilities; making information available in accessible formats; and providing appropriate measures for the exercise of legal capacity in health-related issues.
  • Develop, implement and strengthen policies and programmes, to improve access to rehabilitation, as well as affordable and quality assistive technology within universal health and/or social services coverage and to ensure their sustainability.
  • Collect health-related data, disaggregated by disability, age and sex, education level and household income, and geographical location to inform relevant policies and programmes.
  • Provide health services and care of the same quality to persons with disabilities as to others, including on the basis of free and informed consent, respecting the human rights, dignity, autonomy, legal capacity and needs of persons with disabilities.
  • Take measures to ensure comprehensive, accessible and affordable access to health systems and care for all persons with disabilities, while recognizing the unique vulnerabilities of those who may be living in care and congregated living settings in times of public health emergencies such as COVID-19.

While ReLAB-HS welcomes the Resolution, and the integration of specific provisions on rehabilitation therein, we recognize that rehabilitation is not solely beneficial or necessary for some persons with disabilities. Anybody may need rehabilitation at some point in their lives, following an injury, surgery, disease or illness, or because their functioning has declined with age. Currently, an estimated 2.4 billion people across the globe have rehabilitation needs that, if met, would help them to function better and be as independent as possible. And this number continues to grow.

The Resolution has reaffirmed the right to access rehabilitation, which is in many cases a necessity, not a luxury, for some persons with disability. ReLAB-HS aspires to see rehabilitation recognised as such for any person who has a need for it, across the lifespan and no matter which health condition determines loss of functioning. It is integral to think about rehabilitation on the continuum of healthcare and as part of the overall health care system.

ReLAB-HS is about Learning, Acting and Building together to understand how we can deliver on ambitious and urgent goals to strengthen access to rehabilitation for all; to respond and adapt to changing population health needs, aligning rehabilitation with existing health systems. We recognize that health systems haven’t prioritized rehabilitation services, and are not responding adequately to growing needs, and so we are taking a practical, health systems approach that repositions rehabilitation as part of the continuum of care, with particular focus on bringing these services into primary care at community level and ensuring methods are disability inclusive. We are working within health systems as they currently are, using relevant, effective interventions.

Photo credit: “Myanmar/Burma: Securing health care for the most vulnerable populations in Rakhine State” by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0