|Press Release WHO/68
3 December 1999
International Day of Disabled Persons
WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL URGES COMPREHENSIVE AGENDA ON DISABILITY
UP TO 10% OF WORLD'S POPULATION DISABLED
Seven to ten percent of the world's population has a disability, which means that there may be more than 500 million people with special needs. The majority, an estimated 80%, live in developing countries. To assist people with disabilities, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), today urged closer co-operation amongst United Nations agencies and other partners to create a common agenda on disability.
"Given the vast numbers of people with disabilities and the complexity of disability issues, it is necessary for United Nations agencies to put together a common agenda on disability and to implement it. A more comprehensive effort is needed, at both the national and international levels, linking prevention with rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities," said Dr Brundtland on the occasion of the International Day of Disabled Persons, 3 December.
It is estimated that seven to ten percent of the global population has a disability, implying difficulties in common daily activities and participation. There are several factors behind this estimation. Increased life expectancy has contributed to an ageing population in which disabilities are more common. Better perinatal care has increased the chances for children with disabilities to survive. The epidemic of non-communicable diseases has resulted in a growing number of persons with chronic diseases and disabilities. This is also true for injuries, which are on the rise due to more violence, conflict and traffic accidents.
There may be more than 500 million people around the world with special needs in terms of health care, rehabilitation and social support. The socio-economic consequences of this are considerable. However, assisting people with disabilities could allow them to lead productive, satisfying lives, provided that our society is accessible for all, not only in the physical, but also in the social environment. A person who is disabled in one environment may not be disabled in another environment.
Poverty and disability are closely intertwined and these two issues must be tackled together. An estimated 80% of the world's disabled people lives in the developing world. It is often noted that persons with disabilities are poorer as a group than the general population and that people living in poverty are more likely than others to be disabled.
"Due to the linkage with poverty, our approach to the future challenges that disability poses must involve several United Nations agencies and other partners, particularly organizations of persons with disabilities. Disability must be addressed on several levels: medical, rehabilitative, social and political and the best way to do that is to work together on a shared agenda. WHO will be open to work with all interested parties to that effect," stated Dr Brundtland.
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