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Access to assistive tech a ‘fundamental rights issue’

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The first annual World Day for Assistive Technologies has launched today with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Led by ATscale, the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of assistive technology (AT) and the urgent need to improve access to it in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The awareness day is part the Unlock the Everyday campaign, launched in January this year at Davos, World Economic Forum.

AT encompasses everything from glasses and hearing aids to wheelchairs, prosthetics and smartphones.

Acccording to ATscale, only 10 per cent of people in LMICs have access to the ATs they need, with more and more people needing it due to an ageing population, non-communicable diseases and ongoing conflicts.

ATscale CEO, Pascal Bijleveld, told Health Tech World: “We want the world to know that we have this huge challenge that nobody is really aware of.

“It’s a fundamental rights issue that’s not being taken care of. But it’s not just a rights issue – it’s a smart thing to do economically and for the benefit of society and inclusion.”

ATscale aims to reach 500 million people by 2030 by working alongside the public, governments, health systems and the private sector.

It will mobilise more resources to strengthen all the elements of the system needed to get AT to those who need it, from policy to financing to the fitting of AT devices, Bijleveld said.

The organisation already has a footprint in more than 20 countries and is starting to make significant progress on the ground, he added.

Bijleveld said: “Even in response to earthquakes, basic stuff like wheelchairs and prosthetics is the last thing that’s included when deploying support.

“We’re really trying to address it from all angles.”

ATscale will soon begin directing its efforts to the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics, Bijleveld said.

He added: “Even in that space, there are issues. How accessible are the Olympics themselves to people with disabilities?

“And then in the Paralympics, athletes in higher income countries often have better prosthetics, better wheelchairs and so on.

“What kind of inequity does that create?”

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