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Demanding change on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Source: Tue, 3 Dec 2013 03:02 PM
Author: Ron Sconyers, Physicians for Peace
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Picture shows Brigadier General Ron Sconyers (USAF, Ret) , President and CEO of Physicians for Peace
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

By President/CEO of Physicians for Peace Ron Sconyers, Brigadier General USAF, Ret.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established in 2000 as a set of unifying development objectives for the global community. The eight goals, ranging from universal education to women’s equality, have united governments, nonprofit organizations, and United Nations agencies in a mission to end extreme poverty. 

And while significant progress has been made, there is a striking gap where people with disabilities have not been accounted for in these goals and the resulting development programs.  This means that the 800 million people in developing countries living with one or more physical, sensory (blindness/deafness), intellectual or mental health impairments, are not provided with the appropriate resources to thrive.

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must reflect on the challenges faced by 15 percent of the global community and demand change for a more inclusive society. 

What does this really mean and why should you care? 

Imagine if there was no technician to fit an amputee with a prosthetic; no midwife to help deliver a baby; no professional to give an eye exam to the young child struggling to see the chalkboard.  This is the reality for 800 million people who not only struggle with a disability but also with a lack of quality healthcare. 

Compounding these challenges, studies show a clear link between those living with a disability and those living in poverty. People living in poverty are more likely to become disabled because of poor nutrition, lack of medical care, violence, and other dangerous conditions.  And once disabled, people are less likely to receive the care and rehabilitation needed. It is apparent that disabilities can be both a cause and consequence of poverty. 

Physicians for Peace, the nonprofit organization where I work, has committed to helping this marginalized community receive the ongoing medical care they deserve.  For the past 25 years we have worked in developing countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America – seeing that the issue is not just a lack of doctors but also a lack of properly trained healthcare workers. Particularly when talking about treating people with disabilities, there is a lack of knowledge and therefore a lack of ongoing support.

As an organization we’ve built partnerships in underserved communities across 60 countries -- training local professionals in the best practices to meet the community’s medical needs. And in doing so, we are teaching one person to heal many. 

In Haiti for example, roughly 300,000 people suffered from traumatic injuries after the 2010 earthquake.  The country had few trained physical therapists or orthotic and prosthetic technicians.  Since 2011, Physicians for Peace has provided training to dozens of local technicians and treatment to nearly 1,200 patients – patients who otherwise would have been neglected.  We will now provide similar support in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.  In the Philippines, our focus will be on helping to rebuild the healthcare system based on critical needs ranging from prosthetics to burn care and maternal health.   

With over one billion people worldwide living with a disability, 80 percent of whom are in the developing world, this need is urgent. And as the international community plans for the post 2015 MDG agenda, we must demand great inclusion for those living with a disability. Now is the time to demand change, not only in the policies made but also in the local healthcare solutions needed to fill this gap.


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