The Right to Disability-Inclusive Health Sans Discrimination

The right to the highest attainable standard of health is fundamental, as health is a precondition for equal participation in society.
Despite clear legal obligations, persons with disabilities continue to experience discrimination in their access to health. As a result of these barriers and rights violations, persons with disabilities report lower standards of health and experience higher mortality rates.
Governments, international organisations and development actors urgently need to mainstream disability into their health strategies, services and interventions.
“The highest attainable standard of health [is] a fundamental right of every human being.” This is the heart of the constitution of the World Health Organisation (WHO). States must realise this universal human right without delay.
In practice, it entails the freedom from non-consensual or degrading treatment as well as the entitlement to health care that is accessible, available in sufficient quality and culturally acceptable. This includes the full spectrum of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.
The right to health is essential for the attainment of other human rights. For instance, physical and mental health enables children to learn or adults to work. As a result, equal participation in society is preconditioned on the highest attainable standard of health.
According to the WHO, persons with disabilities make up 15% of the world’s population. Like everyone else, they have general health needs. While persons with disabilities are in no way ‘unhealthy’ or ‘invalid’, some might have additional health needs.
Situation of Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities often do not reach the highest attainable standard of health and subsequently experience higher mortality rates than their peers. The reason for this is that they face discrimination on basis of their disability as well as multiple barriers to equal access to health. Among others, these include:
▶ Cost of Health Care: Persons with disabilities experience poverty at higher rates. As a result, the WHO reports that more than half of persons with disability are unable to afford health care compared to about a third of those without disability.
▶ Inaccessible Information: Health-related information is rarely available in accessible formats for patients with disabilities. This significantly limits their scope for informed decisions or consent.
▶ Built Environment: Inaccessible buildings, equipment and services create barriers to health. Patients with disabilities from remote areas additionally often encounter inaccessible transportation.
▶ Exclusion: Public health promotion and services often exclude persons with disabilities. For instance, UNICEF reports that national vaccination programmes reach less children with than without disabilities.
▶ Service Gap: There is a discrepancy between specialised services needed and offered. As one instance of this service gap, in some low-income settings, health-related rehabilitation is only available to 5% of persons with disabilities.
▶ Rights Violations: Persons with disabilities are often denied their right to bodily autonomy. Women with disabilities are regularly denied their sexual and reproductive health rights. For example, they experience forced sterilization three times more often than women without disabilities.
▶ Ableism: Negative attitudes of staff are a major barrier to health care. Disability is regularly stigmatised as a deviation from the norm and incorrectly linked to lower quality of life.
Recommended Action
Governments, international organisations and development actors need to overcome barriers and discrimination that restrict the right to health for persons with disabilities. They need to mainstream disability into all relevant policies, strategies, programmes and services.
To guarantee the highest attainable standard of health, particularly in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, they have to:
▶ Ensure political commitment to rights-based health policies and strategies, including the agreement on pertinent resolutions at the World Health Assembly and on a successor to the WHO Global Disability Action Plan.
▶ Develop and implement legislation to outlaw any type of non-consensual treatment, in particular forced sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities.
▶ Provide adequate funding for rights-based, disability-inclusive and community-based health services, including through international cooperation.
▶ Ensure available, adequate and affordable Universal Health Coverage for persons with disabilities, which covers all essential health services, including eye health.
▶ Ensure full accessibility of health facilities, equipment, services and information for all persons with disabilities.
▶ Ensure disability awareness of all health staff, including community-based health workers, and provide guidance on adequate disability-sensitive services, including on sexual and reproductive health.
▶ Disaggregate statistical data on the health status and the access to health care at least by sex, age and disability.
(From the Issue Brief of Light for the World on The Right to Disability-Inclusive Health In the spirit of the World Health Assembly)