SWITZERLAND – Nearly one billion people globally are denied access, particularly in low-and middle-income countries, a new report by WHO and UNICEF shows.
The report estimates that more than 2.5 billion people are currently in need of assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, or apps that aid in communication and cognition.
The report also emphasizes the significant access disparity between low- and high-income countries. According to a study of 35 countries, access ranges from 3% in poorer countries to 90% in wealthy countries.
For the first time, the Global Report on Assistive Technology provides evidence on the global need for and access to assistive products, as well as a set of recommendations to increase availability and access, raise awareness of the need, and implement inclusion policies to improve the lives of millions of people.
Assistive technology is defined in the report as “assistive products and their related systems and services” that are used to “enhance performance in all key functional domains such as cognition, communication, hearing, mobility, self-care, and vision.”
Over 3.5bln people will need assistive products by 2050
According to the report, the number of people in need of one or more assistive products is expected to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050 as populations age and the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) rises globally.
Besides the rise in NCDs, the report identifies factors such as the aging global population, the rise in chronic diseases, and the long-term effects of COVID-19 as contributing to the anticipated increase in need.
According to the report, affordability is a major barrier to access. Approximately two-thirds of people who used assistive products paid for them out of pocket. Others reported relying on family and friends to meet their financial needs.
With the United Nations estimating that the global population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, the number of people who will require assistive products is expected to exceed the current ratio of about one in every three people.
A survey of 70 countries featured in the report discovered significant gaps in service provision and trained workforce for assistive technology, particularly in cognition, communication, and self-care.
Previous WHO surveys identify a lack of awareness and unaffordable prices, a lack of services, insufficient product quality, range, and quantity, and procurement and supply chain challenges as major barriers.
The Global Report makes a number of recommendations to improve the lives of millions by increasing availability and access, raising awareness, and implementing inclusion policies to improve the lives of millions of people.
It specifically advocates for improving access within education, health and social care systems; ensuring the availability, effectiveness and affordability of assistive products; enlarging, diversifying and improving workforce capacity; and investing in research, innovation, and an enabling ecosystem.
The brief also emphasizes the importance of raising public awareness and combating stigma; developing and investing in enabling environments and evidence-based policies; and incorporating this critical technology into humanitarian responses.