World Health Day is celebrated annually on 7 April and each year draws attention to a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world. The theme for 2021 is “Building a healthier world”. Health is important in itself because it enables a person to have a good life and a full life expectancy. Persons with disabilities have the same health needs as every other member of the population, including immunisation, screening, sexual and reproductive health, and all other aspects of regular healthcare. They may also have additional or more complex health needs, because of impairment and the consequences of impairment. People with disabilities may benefit from specialist services as a result of their impairment, which includes physical therapy, assistive devices, speech and language therapy, psychiatry and more. Many of these services are usually known as “rehabilitation”.
Persons with disabilities are faced with a range of barriers when they seek healthcare. Strategies are required to overcome these different barriers in order to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the fulfillment of rights. Other types of barriers may be less well recognised and understood. For example, people who are deaf or have other communication difficulties may miss out information or on being informed about their options if there is a lack of sign language or other adapted communication tools. People with visual impairment may not be able to read letters from health professionals or instructions regarding medication.
Efforts are needed to remove barriers so that access to healthcare services is made equitable for people with disabilities. Making healthcare services inclusive, respectful and barrier-free will improve access for other vulnerable groups, as well as improve healthcare coverage overall. Improving healthcare services for persons with disabilities will likely be cost-saving, reducing future healthcare costs, promoting inclusion and improving economic productivity for these people. Overall, these changes will help in achievement of UHC and Sustainable Development Goals by ensuring that healthcare services reach the whole population of persons with disabilities, so that they can experience better health, better productivity, and less poverty.
Above all, providing better access to inclusive and non-discriminatory healthcare for people with disabilities will help ensure that their rights are met. Improving health of people with disabilities will reap benefits in terms of reduced morbidity and mortality. Better health will also help these people to realise their other rights, viz right to education, employment, and social inclusion, and so will improve well-being, social inclusion and reduce poverty.
The writer is Principal (I/C) Abhedananda Home, Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-Abled Children, Solina, Rambagh, Srinagar. [email protected]