National Consultation on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Development Processes (with a special focus on children, young girls and women)

Inaugural address by Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia

12 February 2014, SEARO, New Delhi

Dr Sara Varughese, Regional Director, CBM, India Office; Dr Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust for Persons with Developmental Disabilities; Dr J L Kaul; Dr Malika Basu, Resource Person and Moderator, Gender Community Solution Exchange, UNICEF; Core Group Members of Action on Disability.

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you to the WHO South-East Asia Regional Office. I’m very happy that the CBM is holding the ‘national consultation on inclusion of persons with disabilities in development processes with special focus on children, young girls and women’ in our Conference Hall. Thanks, Sara, for familiarizing us with the products of this action group.

National Consultation on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Development Processes (with a special focus on children, young girls and women) Wednesday, 12 February 2014, SEARO, New Delhi Inaugural address by Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for South East Asia Dr Sara Varughese, Regional Director, CBM, India Office; Dr Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust for Persons with Developmental Disabilities; Dr J L Kaul; Dr Malika Basu, Resource Person and Moderator, Gender Community Solution Exchange, UNICEF; Core Group Members of Action on Disability.

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you to the WHO South-East Asia Regional Office. I’m very happy that the CBM is holding the ‘national consultation on inclusion of persons with disabilities in development processes with special focus on children, young girls and women’ in our Conference Hall. Thanks, Sara, for familiarizing us with the products of this action group. According to the Global Burden of Disease, the disability prevalence rate is the second highest (in the world) for moderate and severe disability (16%) and the third highest for severe disability (2.9%).

WHO is aware of this burden and recognizes the ‘right to health’ of persons with disabilities. In 2011, WHO and the World Bank released the World Report on Disability which has subsequently been translated into several languages, including all the official United Nations languages and issued in a broad range of alternative formats for the widest dissemination possible. The Report highlights the issues and makes recommendations on how national governments can address them.

The Director-General of WHO was requested by Member States to prepare a comprehensive WHO action plan in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the outcome document of the UN High-level Meeting on Disability and Development. In response to that, a WHO’s Draft Global Disability Action Plan 2014-2021 was developed by WHO to achieve optimal health, functioning, well-being and human rights for all persons with disabilities. The WHO Executive Board has provided guidance on the draft action plan ‘WHO Global Disability Action Plan 2014–2021: Better health for all people with disabilities’, and encouraged Member States to engage in further consultations to finalize the draft resolution before submission to the Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly in May 2014.

The Global Disability Action Plan has three main objectives. They are:

1. remove barriers and improve access to health services and programmes;
2. strengthen and extend rehabilitation, habilitation, assistive technology, assistance and support services, and community-based rehabilitation; and
3. enhance collection of relevant and internationally comparable data on disability and support research on disability and related services.

The Plan supports the global agreement on disabilities including the implementation of actions in 14 Articles of the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities); actions recommended in the Report of the 2013 High-level Meeting on Disability, and the ongoing actions of the WHO Secretariat towards mainstreaming disability in the development agenda, in line with the UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions.

Our Regional Office, as a member of the WHO Taskforce on Disability, has raised awareness about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with WHO country offices and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare focal points through several seminars which led to integrating disability in their areas of work. I am glad to share here that this building is the first one to have completed the disability access audit and can be termed disabled-friendly.

Over the past ten years, the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia has supported numerous activities in the field of disability like organization of the First Asia-Pacific Community- Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Congress in Thailand in 2009; the First World CBR Congress in India in 2012 in collaboration with HQ; the South-East Asia Regional Workshop on Wheelchair Service Training Package in 2013; as well as the consultation on the WHO draft Global Disability Action Plan 2014–2021 in collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific and WHO headquarters.

The Regional Office also launched a regional fact sheet on wheelchairs, a booklet on the Roles of the Health Sector as per CRPD as well as an information document entitled ‘Disability in the South East Asia Region’. This last document was disseminated to Member States during the Sixty-sixth session of the Regional Committee for WHO South-East Asia Region in 2013 and before the UNGA high-level meeting on disability.

As of now, all countries in the Region have national plans for disability prevention and rehabilitation and our collective support and cooperation will help them in achieving their goals.

The implementation of such plans requires partnerships of committed organizations and people. More importantly, multisectoral thinking and a collaborative approach are essential to address such multifaceted public health issues. I welcome the collaboration of Solutions Exchange for Gender Community and CBM to come up with innovative and workable processes to bring gender equality in the area of disability prevention and rehabilitation.

As of now, all countries in the Region have national plans for disability prevention and rehabilitation and our collective support and cooperation will help them in achieving their goals.

The implementation of such plans requires partnerships of committed organizations and people. More importantly, multisectoral thinking and a collaborative approach are essential to address such multifaceted public health issues. I welcome the collaboration of Solutions Exchange for Gender Community and CBM to come up with innovative and workable processes to bring gender equality in the area of disability prevention and rehabilitation.

A disabled or we may say, a differently abled person, may be vulnerable and may need special care and attention. Women, young persons and children with disabilities may be even more vulnerable.

Women with disabilities face multiple discriminations which negatively impact their physical, mental health and wellbeing. Disabled women have reported negative stereotypical statements of concern from health-care providers who often make them feel that they are a burden to society and refrain from providing them adequate information on available healthcare services. These women feel they have not received suitable advice to meet their needs, including on sexual and reproductive health or the effects of gender-based violence.

Women are the family caretakers, and their being disabled affects the health and wellbeing of the entire family. In addition, disabled women bear a disproportionate burden of poverty, experience significant unemployment or underemployment and are often in the lowest income bracket as compared to disabled men or abled women. It is common for disabled women not to receive adequate vocational rehabilitation and gainful labour as compared to their male counterparts.

WHO will continue to work with UN agencies, partners and NGOs including CMB, India to support countries in the Region to implement their national plans for disability prevention and rehabilitation, particularly to promote gender-sensitive health services for women with disabilities to improve their accessibility to health services for better health and quality of life.

I would also like to express my appreciation to the Action Group for the production of several information products such as the compendium of benefit schemes for the disabled at the central-and state-levels, the review of 10 flagship programmes of the Government of India, and the compendium of 20 case studies of individuals challenged with different forms of disabilities. I have no doubt that these will go a long way in raising awareness about disabilities and, also, to highlight what opportunities exist for the differently abled of our countries.

I would also like to express my appreciation to the Action Group for the production of several information products such as the compendium of benefit schemes for the disabled at the central-and state-levels, the review of 10 flagship programmes of the Government of India, and the compendium of 20 case studies of individuals challenged with different forms of disabilities. I have no doubt that these will go a long way in raising awareness about disabilities and, also, to highlight what opportunities exist for the differently abled of our countries.

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