A whopping one billion children and adults in need of one or more assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, or apps that support communication and cognition are denied access, according to a new report by the WHO and UNICEF.
Globally, more than 2.5 billion people are in need of these assistive aids. Yet the access to these life-changing products can be as low as 3 per cent particularly in low- and middle-income countries as compared to 90 per cent in wealthy countries.
The Global Report on Assistive Technology noted that the number of people in need of one or more assistive products is likely to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050, due to populations ageing and the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases rising across the world.
“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,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a statement.
“Nearly 240 million children have disabilities. Without access to assistive technology, children with disabilities will continue to miss out on their education, continue to be at a greater risk of child labour and continue to be subjected to stigma and discrimination, undermining their confidence and wellbeing,” added UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
Affordability is a major barrier to access, the report said. 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 the 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.
Children with disabilities have additional challenges due to their growth, which requires frequent adjustments or replacements of their assistive products.
“Denying people access to these life-changing tools is not only an infringement of human rights, it’s economically shortsighted,” Ghebreyesus said, while calling on all countries to fund and prioritise access to assistive technology and give everyone a chance to live up to their potential.