New Delhi, May 18 (PTI) India should reflect on envisioning assistive technology being integrated within health and social care systems, entwined with socio-political and economic factors, experts have said, reacting to a new UN report which revealed that more than 250 crore people in the world need one or more assistive products.
A new report published by WHO and UNICEF on Monday revealed that more than 2.5 billion (250 crore) people need one or more assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, or apps that support communication and cognition.
Yet nearly one billion (100 crore) of them are denied access, particularly in low and middle-income countries, where access can be as low as 3 per cent of the need for these life-changing products, it said.
The report notes that the number of people in need of one or more assistive products is likely to rise to 3.5 billion (350 crore) by 2050, due to populations ageing and the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases rising across the world.
The report also highlights the vast gap in access between low and high-income countries. An analysis of 35 countries reveals that access varies from 3 per cent in poorer nations to 90 per cent in wealthy countries.
Reacting to the report, experts have highlighted that India should reflect on envisioning assistive technology being integrated within health and social care systems, entwined with socio-political and economic factors.
Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre For Social Research, said the report looks at developing and strengthening on the basis of four components — products, provision, personnel and policies.
“In India, there is not just the issue of assistive technology in education, but also to access the resources to study in the first place. The report narrates one such issue in the form of an example of Sukanya in Andhra Pradesh. As a reflective learning, India requires appropriate and quality assistive technology,” Kumari told PTI.
She said the focus should be on mending the gaps in research, technology, the needs and supply chain etc.
“There is global inequality: There are gaps in middle and low-income countries regarding access to assistive technology, which creates more barriers than solutions in the lives of people trying to benefit from the technology. India can provide assistive products and services at subsidised rates or for free to eligible people,” she said.
Dr Virender S Sangwan, Director, Innovations, Dr Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital, said the need for assistive technology is maximum in India because it is home to the maximum number of people with disabilities.
“Assistive technology is very expensive and not made in India. So affordability is an issue. The solution is that we encourage the manufacture of assistive technology via Make in India and make it available through a government programme or the government-run health insurance scheme. Unless it reaches rural India, assistive technology will not reach everyone who needs it,” he said.
Sangwan highlighted how ensuring it reaches the remotest of areas is the biggest challenge.
“Another thing which needs to be kept in mind is that there needs to be someone to work with the people who are disabled, enabling them to cope and remain functional in society. The scale of the problem is very large and directly ties into the human rights issue, wherein people who are disabled are discriminated against. By not having access to technology, which could enable their participation as economically productive members in the society, their fundamental rights are being disputed,” he told PTI.
Assistive technology is an umbrella term for assistive products and their related systems and services. Assistive products can enhance performance in all key functional domains such as mobility, hearing, self-care, vision, cognition and communication. They may be physical products such as wheelchairs, prosthetics or spectacles or digital software and apps. They may also be adaptations to the physical environment, for example, portable ramps or grab-rails.
People in need of assistive technology include people with disability, older people, people with communicable and noncommunicable diseases including neglected tropical diseases, people with mental health conditions, people with gradual functional decline or loss of intrinsic capacity and many people affected by humanitarian crises. PTI UZM RC
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