New WHO resolution: disability-inclusive healthcare

The World Health Assembly has just adopted a resolution called "The highest attainable standard of health for persons with disabilities", aiming to turn the right to inclusive healthcare into reality. In this Q&A, Light for the World asks our experts for their take.
Two women, one of them carrying a sleeping baby on her back, in front of a waiting line at a hospital in Burkina Faso

 “I have had so many bad experiences”

Q. While the right to health is set in the World Health Organization’s constitution, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Sustainable Development Goals, the healthcare experiences reported by people with disabilities rarely match up in practice. What's been your experience?

A. “I have had so many bad experiences,” reports Armando Conduane from our partner ADEMO, a Mozambican organisation of people with disabilities.

“I have a card that says I am a person with disability and that I have free access to basic medication. But when health staff realise this, they usually say there is no medication, because I will not pay them.” 

“It is painful when we think about getting healthcare.” 

Emilio Paulo Mobrica, health technician and disability focal point at Manga health unit counselling a female patient.

“I want everyone to feel welcome”

Q. As a healthcare professional, what's your view?

A. “I used to think that people with disabilities do not like to seek health support, but I was wrong,” shares Emilio Paulo Mobrica, a medical technician at a health unit in Manga, Mozambique.

"Because of my training with Light for the World I feel that I can treat and support people with disabilities much better. But I have heard many stories of people being turned away or feeling discriminated against."

“As a disability focal point, I am supporting others to make sure that no one is mistreated, and specific needs are included during the whole process in the health unit. I want everyone to feel welcome and get the healthcare they need.”

“Remove barriers to meet health needs of persons with disabilities”

Q. What does your research say about disability and healthcare? Why is this latest WHO resolution important and what needs to happen now?

A. "Disability remains a health rights issue, as well as having relevance to all other areas of human rights and sustainable development. Medical and rehabilitation costs push many disabled people and families into poverty,” explains Professor Tom Shakespeare FBA, Chair of Light for the World UK.

“The WHO urgently needs to help deliver on the promises of the World Report on Disability a decade ago, and support countries to remove barriers to meeting health needs of persons with disabilities. This new resolution, if it brings renewed focus, is warmly to be welcomed."

Prof. Tom Shakespeare in conversation with Dr José Diquissone Tole, Provincial Director of Gender, Child and Social Action in Sofala and former chair of the Mozambican Association of Blind People.

Prof. Tom Shakespeare in conversation with Dr José Diquissone Tole, Provincial Director of Gender, Child and Social Action in Sofala and former chair of the Mozambican Association of Blind People.

“Inclusion cannot be an afterthought”

Q. How far have we come on inclusion in healthcare?

A. “Not far enough. The COVID-19 pandemic showed us how badly people with disabilities are discriminated in healthcare,” answers Marieke Boersma, Head of Quality and Innovation at Light for the World, who followed the resolution development closely.

“The WHO resolution comes at a crucial time because we are in the last year of the Global Disability Action Plan 2014-2021. While that plan has brought clearer ideas of how to make healthcare accessible to all, practical implementation is not there yet.

“Now is the time for governments to make their healthcare systems fully inclusive, in line with the WHO’s aim of universal health coverage and a people-centred approach to healthcare. That’s exactly what the resolution commits them to do. Inclusion cannot be an afterthought.”

“Real change for people everywhere”

Q. How does Light for the World work with WHO and governments?

A. “Light for the World recognises the role the WHO and governments play in achieving real change for people everywhere and especially in low-income contexts,” says Dr Geoffrey Wabulembo, Medical Director for Eye Health & NTDs, Light for the World.

“That’s why we welcome this latest resolution." (draft presented to the WHO Executive Board)

"We have been partnering with the WHO for years, mainly on inclusive health, eye health and rehabilitation. We’ve given financial and technical support to governments in our partner countries to assist with the integration of eye health and rehabilitation in their general health systems and in making health services inclusive. And we are supporting procurement of vital medical equipment for eye health in the communities we serve.”

“With the new resolution we are taking an important step closer to the global goal of health and wellbeing for everybody! Now it’s up to governments to play their part by making their health systems fully inclusive .”

“Investment in inclusive health is an investment in the wellbeing of all”

Q. What is your message to the WHO and the Ministries of Health around the world now?

A. Marieke Boersma: “We appreciate the steps taken towards inclusive healthcare. Now it’s time to realise truly universal healthcare where eye health services, rehabilitation and inclusivity are fully embedded.”

Dr Geoffrey Wabulembo: “We need strong data in the health sector to measure progress and identify gaps in services, quality and coverage. And I want to emphasise that investment in inclusive health is an investment into the wellbeing and prosperity of all.”