Promoting access to assistive products to support the elderly and disabled lead dignified lives

K M Raja is a 51-year-old Sri Lankan working in the agricultural sector. However, a farm injury in 1997 left his lower legs paralyzed, putting his agri-business and the future of his three young children at risk.

Local health authorities were quick to intervene; they provided Raja with a motorized tricycle that gave him the ability to reach nearby village markets to sell his produce.

Assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, communication aids, spectacles and other essential items give people with disabilities and older people the opportunity to live a healthy, productive and dignified life.

The Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine and WHO held a multisectoral stakeholder meeting on 11 October 2017 to develop a framework to introduce and improve access to essential assistive products and technology for persons with disabilities and elders in Sri Lanka.

More than 60 stakeholders from the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine; Ministry of Social Empowerment, Welfare and Kandyan Heritage; members of the National and Provincial Government Authorities; academia; NGOs; civil society and the private sector participated in the discussion.

The meeting brought together diverse stakeholders to initiate discussion on adapting the WHO Assistive Products List to the local context and addressing gaps in assistive technology in the country.

The WHO Assistive Products List includes 50 priority assistive products to enable people to function better and live healthy lives.

The WHO Assistive Products List serves to create awareness among the public, mobilize resources and stimulate competition to support countries improve access to assistive products.

The multi-stakeholder meeting is taking place at the right time for Sri Lanka. “Assistive products are very relevant to Sri Lanka today. With a rapidly ageing population and many young soldiers, policemen and civilians in war-affected areas living with disabilities; there is a rising need for innovation and new ideas to enable these individuals to continue to contribute to society and live fulfilled lives,” said Mr. Janaka Sugathadasa, Secretary, Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine

Dr Patanjali Nayar, Regional Adviser – Disability, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation, WHO SEARO stressed on the economic case for investing in assistive products. “The benefits of assistive products go far beyond individual health and wellbeing gains; it helps these individuals to contribute to the country’s economy and also results in reduced health and welfare costs. Each day we delay in providing these devices, it has a detrimental effect on the country’s economy,” said Dr Patanjali at the meeting.

The meeting was successful in initiating discussions on adapting the WHO Assistive Products List to Sri Lanka and promoting the formation of a multisectoral committee to take forward the recommendations.

WHO will support Sri Lanka to continue the policy dialogue to develop a national assistive technology programme. Promoting access to assistive products is vital in moving towards Sri Lanka’s goal of universal health coverage and sustainable development

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