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WHO launches World Report on Disability

June 9, 2011

1,000,000,000 People with Disabilities worldwide

There is a lot of energy here at the UN around this report release today, as well as the concurrent High Level Meetings on HIV/AIDS occurring as well.  At the WHO report launch event, disability advocates were generally pleased with the messages from the WHO, UN, and World Bank officials, who emphasized the Convention on the Rights of Persons as the framework in which this report was created and must be the basis for global efforts to advance the status of disabled people globally in health, education, employment and social inclusion; the WHO report and instruments like the International Classification of Functioning (ICF) can then be regarded as tools in the global work of building a global culture of access and inclusion.

Significantly discussed was the report’s assertion of a new global disability prevalence figure: 15% of the world’s people have a disability, or one billion people.  Global estimates have long been elusive due to variance in national definition and data collection approaches.  Several global survey instruments such as the World Health Survey and the Global Burden of Disease informed this new estimate.  More work must be done to further homogenize data collection methodology, improve comparability, and to integrate disability into national census schemes.

David Morrissey with Judy Human & Tony Coelho and others.This same day, in the evening, a side event to the High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS was held focused on disability and AIDS.  Representatives from USAID, UNAIDS, PEPFAR, AIDS-Free World, and other governmental and NGO offices discussed the crucial need to better engage at the intersection of disabilities and AIDS in order to provide effective systems of care and prevention efforts.  Some key observations from the discussion included:

  •  People with disabilities are equally at risk as non-disabled people to contract HIV, but less likely to have access to care.
  • Risk factors for contracting HIV within different disability populations are unknown. 
  • At 15% of the population, people with disabilities cannot be an afterthought in program planning for systems of care and prevention.  Consideration of how efforts reach disabled populations must be integrated from the beginning.

During this discussion, I proposed that the necessary learning that must occur to address this intersection of AIDS and disability must be a two-way dialogue: HIV/AIDS systems of care and prevention must be made more inclusive and accessible, and the disability community in all of its diversity must build its acumen on HIV/AIDS.  Further, I proposed that the best opportunity in this intersection is at the local level, where people with disabilities are, and where they are vulnerable to exclusion and lack of access.  We must therefore continue to foster the expansion of disability civil society, empowering advocates, community organizers and disabled people’s organizations with training and support to drive the HIV/AIDS sector to greater accessibility and inclusion.

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