A new report says the number of people in need of one or more assistive products is likely to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050, due to population ageing and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases rising across the world. The report also highlights the vast gap in access between low- and high-income countries. An analysis of 35 countries reveals that access varies from three per cent in poorer nations to 90 per cent in wealthy countries. It said almost one billion children and adults with disabilities and older persons in need of assistive technology were denied access. The WHO and UNICEF have called on governments, industry, donors and civil society to fund and prioritize access to assistive products. The report published by WHO and UNICEF reveals that more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, or apps that support communication and cognition. However, nearly one billion of them are denied access, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where access can be as low as three per cent of the need for these life-changing products. The Global Report on Assistive Technology presented evidence for the first time on the global need for and access to assistive products and provides a series of recommendations to expand availability and access, raise awareness of the need, and implement inclusion policies to improve the lives of millions of people. Assistive technology is a life changer – it opens the door to education for children with impairments, employment and social interaction for adults living with disabilities, and an independent life of dignity for older persons. Affordability is a major barrier to access, the report notes. Around two-thirds of people with assistive products reported out-of-pocket payments for them. Others reported relying on family and friends to financially support their needs. A survey of 70 countries featured in the report found large gaps in service provision and trained workforce for assistive technology, especially in the domains of cognition, communication and self-care. Previous surveys published by WHO note a lack of awareness and unaffordable prices, lack of services, inadequate product quality, range and quantity, and procurement and supply chain challenges as key barriers.
The positive impact of assistive products goes beyond improving the health, well-being, participation and inclusion of individual users – families and societies also benefit. Enlarging access to quality-assured, safe and affordable assistive products leads to reduced health and welfare costs, such as recurrent hospital admissions or state benefits, and promotes a more productive labour force, indirectly stimulating economic growth. Access to assistive technology for children with disabilities is often the first step for childhood development, access to education, participation in sports and civic life, and getting ready for employment like their peers. Children with disabilities have additional challenges due to their growth, which requires frequent adjustments or replacements of their assistive products. Assistive technology is an umbrella term for assistive products and their related systems and services. Assistive products can enhance performance in all key functional domains such as mobility, hearing, self-care, vision, cognition and communication. They may be physical products, such as wheelchairs, prosthetics or spectacles, or digital software and apps. They may also be adaptations to the physical environment, for example, portable ramps or grab-rails.
Source: News Week