Director-General

First World report on disability launched

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Address launching the World report on disability
New York, United States of America

9 June 2011

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to launch the first-ever World report on disability. It was here, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where the historic Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force three years ago.

The report provides the foremost global assessment of disability to date, and it does so using the latest scientific evidence on this complex subject. The report gives the world the first new prevalence estimates since the 1970s. The new estimates now tell us that more than one billion people experience some form of disability.

Of these, some 110 to 190 million people encounter very significant difficulties in their daily lives. In fact most people with disabilities face obstacles at every turn in their lives.

Ms Faustina Urassa, who opened our ceremony today, has described so well the impact of these obstacles on her own life.

As the report reveals, some of the biggest barriers include stigma and discrimination, lack of adequate health care and rehabilitation services, and inaccessible transport. Other barriers arise from the design of buildings, such as schools and workplaces, and of information and communication technologies.

The World report on disability documents the extent to which this vulnerable population is marginalized and ill-served by the societies in which we live.

For example, in the health care field, people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to report finding health care provider skills inadequate to meet their needs. They are four times more likely to report being treated badly. And they are nearly three times more likely to report being denied needed health care.

As a result of these barriers, people with disabilities have poorer health, lower educational achievements, fewer economic opportunities, and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.

We somehow know intuitively that disability is associated with social exclusion. But this report now sets out the evidence in such detail and with such authority that it commands our attention and demands our action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I find it entirely appropriate that the World report on disability is being launched in the context of this 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS.

The links between HIV and disability are strong. HIV can lead to disability, and people with disabilities have also been shown to be at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV. They have less access to prevention and treatment and are more likely to become victims of sexual assault.

In my view, ensuring that health information, and voluntary counselling and testing services reach people with disabilities must be pursued as a top priority.

Addressing disability requires the support of many sectors. Most appropriately, this report results from a partnership between WHO and the World Bank, together with other UN agencies and civil society organizations.

People with disabilities themselves and their representative organizations have been central to the development of the report. This is an inclusive as well as a comprehensive report, and I thank all of you for your unique contributions. They have greatly enriched both the scope of the report and its value as a practical guide.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities gives states guidance on what they should do. This World report on disability advises them on how to do it. Some 150 states and regional integration organizations have signed the Convention, and 100 have ratified it. This is a strong signal of their commitment.

With this report, they now have the data, the knowledge, and the practical advice to deliver on their commitment. And this commitment includes a promise to bring their disabled citizens into the mainstream.

Rest assured: WHO will play its part.

In fact we have already started. Through the WHO Task Force on Disability, we have improved access to our information products, premises, and employment opportunities. We have also been working to ensure that disability is integrated into the work of all relevant technical programmes at WHO.

WHO stands ready to support any Member State requesting our guidance in the areas of policy development, capacity building, and technical assistance.

We would be pleased to work with countries wishing to improve their data, make health systems inclusive, strengthen rehabilitation services, and expand community-based rehabilitation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we need is disability-inclusive development, which is why I welcome the remarks delivered by HE Mr Gary Quinlan on behalf of Mr Kevin Rudd. Australia’s aid policy epitomizes this approach.

I am equally delighted that Minister Binagwaho and Secretary Cordova also share the platform with me today.

Mexico and Rwanda have taken important steps towards the implementation of the UN Convention.

We know from vast experience that people with disabilities, when they are given access to the mainstream, can live full and dignified lives.

They can make significant contributions to their communities and broader societies. Professor Stephen Hawking and Ms Urassa are such wonderful examples of this potential.

But we must now ensure that we break the barriers which segregate people with disabilities and force them to the margins of society. The World report on disability gives us the guidance, and the persuasive arguments, for doing exactly that.

The report specifically calls for access to mainstream services for people with disabilities. It argues, strongly and convincingly, for investment in specialized programmes such as rehabilitation.

It calls for the provision of devices, including wheelchairs and hearing aids. It further encourages governments to adopt a disability strategy and plan of action, improve research and work to increase public awareness and understanding of disability.

We must give people with disabilities the same chance to engage, to flourish, and, to use the Professor's own words, "to shine".

Ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests, I commend to you this report.

Thank you.

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