Disability and development – leaving no one behind

The 3rd December was International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and increase support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. This year, DFID used the date to launch their new Disability Framework, which aims to strengthen disability inclusion in DFID policies and programmes, and outline the actions of their staff over the next 12 months.

I was lucky enough to attend the launch event held at the Houses of Parliament organised by the Bond Disability and Development Group. At the event, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, Baroness Northover stated the Framework indicates how tackling discrimination against people with disabilities in developing countries will be a core part of the UK’s fight against extreme poverty.

She stated that with one in seven people worldwide having a disability, much more needs to be done by the international development community to give people with a disability equal access to education, employment, healthcare, social support and the justice system. She declared the Disability Framework an important milestone in the UK’s commitment to international disability programming – “Only by reaching people with disabilities will we be able to leave no one behind and end extreme poverty. That is what this framework sets out to do”.

She went on to say how some disabilities, such as needing glasses, are curable or preventable. As a post graduate researcher for the Mozambique Eyecare Project, my ears pricked up when she mentioned the importance of adequate eye health. She gave the example of the importance of glasses and how the ability to see may be fundamental for a person to work and to support their family.

So what do we know about visual impairment as a disability? The WHO estimate that 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide, with 90% of the people living in low-income settings. 82% of people living with blindness are aged 50 and above. Encouragingly, 80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured. The need for glasses (known technically as uncorrected refractive errors) are the main cause of moderate and severe visual impairment.

In Mozambique, to address the problem of visual impairment, an optometry course was established in 2009. Once qualified, one of the key functions of the optometrists is to provide eye tests and glasses where needed. However, is establishing optometry training enough? As the foundations of optometry in Mozambique have now been established, I did some research to seek to understand what barriers may limit service uptake by the general population and inform decision making on improved service delivery.

My research found that for comprehensive public sector eye tests to be successful in Mozambique, those planning their implementation must consider cost and affordability. Improved advocacy and health promotion will also be needed. The delivery of eye health services in more remote rural areas merits careful and comprehensive consideration.

Visual impairment is one of many disabilities restricting people from reaching their potential. Similar research is needed for other disabilities. DFID have stated their commitment to commissioning world-class research that directly improves people’s lives. Hopefully this commitment, combined with the Disability Framework, will result in an increase in the evidence available and make a real difference to people with disabilities everywhere.

By Stephen Thompson – HEART Research Officer and Dublin Institute of Technology/African Vision Research Institute Post Graduate Researcher

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