New WHO report on assistive technology for disabled provides a roadmap for India

News: The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) jointly launched the first Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT) on May 16.

What is Assistive technology (AT)?

It may include any item, piece of equipment, software programme or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.

These aids could also be

– Physical products such as wheelchairs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, prostheses, walking devices or continence pads;

– Digital products such as software and apps that support communication and time management; or

– Adaptations to the physical environment, for example, portable ramps or grab-rails.

Different disabilities require different assistive technologies, and these are designed to help people who have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, seeing, hearing, learning, or walking.

A billion people globally are currently estimated to be in need of assistive technology (AT); this is projected to double by 2050.
What are the findings of the GReAT report?

The GReAT report draws upon surveys conducted in 20 countries. Some key findings:

Proportion of the population currently using at least one assistive product ranges from less than 3% to about 70%.

Those reporting that they use or need at least one assistive product range from about 10% to nearly 70%; the extent to which these needs are met varies from about 2% to nearly 90%.

Universal assistive technology coverage implies that everyone, everywhere receives the AT that they need without financial or any other hardship.

What are the challenges regarding access and coverage wrt AT?

These are best understood when seen from the following five parameters.

People: This is related to the age, gender, type of functional difficulty, location and socioeconomic status of those in need of AT.

Products: The range, quality, affordability and supply of assistive products continue to pose considerable challenges. Quality and standard issues such as safety, performance and durability are key concerns.

Provision: The information and referral systems remain complex and services are not available across all geographies and populations. The range, quantity and quality of assistive products procured and provided, as well as the efficiency of delivered services, remain below par.

Personnel: The workforce gaps are not just about numbers, but also about adequate training and education too.

Policy: A survey of more than 60 countries reported that they have at least one government ministry or authority responsible for access to AT. Even then, the current levels of access imply a long road to universal AT access.

India

Disadvantaged groups and communities face hardships in their search for affordable quality healthcare in India. This is more so wrt obtaining ATs and associated services — the estimated unmet need is about 70%.

ATs handed out in camps or as a part of social service initiatives are a sporadic activity without the use of statistics as a basis for unmet needs. Products are often sub-standard and lead to poorer health outcomes.

Way forward

Including assistive technology in universal health and social care services is a critical imperative.

The health system’s responsibility in providing equitable access to ATs, is increasingly being recognised and country-level plans are being drawn up with an aim to fund and provide ATs under the UHC.

Until AT solutions are integrated with the existing primary healthcare packages the current top-down approach is of limited benefit. The GReAT Report provides that roadmap.

Source: This post is based on the article “New WHO report on assistive technology for disabled provides a roadmap for India” published in The Indian Express on 6th June 22.

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