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Press Release WHO/68 relayed by MEDICAM
3 December 1999

International Day of Disabled Persons

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WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL URGES COMPREHENSIVE AGENDA ON DISABILITY
UP TO 10% OF WORLD'S POPULATION DISABLED
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Seven to ten percent of the world's population has a disability, which means
that there may be more than 500 million people with special needs. The majority,
an estimated 80%, live in developing countries. To assist people with
disabilities, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health
Organization (WHO), today urged closer co-operation amongst United Nations
agencies and other partners to create a common agenda on disability.

"Given the vast numbers of people with disabilities and the complexity of
disability issues, it is necessary for United Nations agencies to put together a
common agenda on disability and to implement it. A more comprehensive effort is
needed, at both the national and international levels, linking prevention with
rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities," said Dr Brundtland on the
occasion of the International Day of Disabled Persons, 3 December.

It is estimated that seven to ten percent of the global population has a
disability, implying difficulties in common daily activities and participation.
There are several factors behind this estimation. Increased life expectancy has
contributed to an ageing population in which disabilities are more common.
Better perinatal care has increased the chances for children with disabilities
to survive. The epidemic of non-communicable diseases has resulted in a growing
number of persons with chronic diseases and disabilities. This is also true for
injuries, which are on the rise due to more violence, conflict and traffic
accidents.

There may be more than 500 million people around the world with special needs in
terms of health care, rehabilitation and social support. The socio-economic
consequences of this are considerable. However, assisting people with
disabilities could allow them to lead productive, satisfying lives, provided
that our society is accessible for all, not only in the physical, but also in
the social environment. A person who is disabled in one environment may not be
disabled in another environment.

Poverty and disability are closely intertwined and these two issues must be
tackled together. An estimated 80% of the world's disabled people lives in the
developing world. It is often noted that persons with disabilities are poorer as
a group than the general population and that people living in poverty are more
likely than others to be disabled.

"Due to the linkage with poverty, our approach to the future challenges that
disability poses must involve several United Nations agencies and other
partners, particularly organizations of persons with disabilities. Disability
must be addressed on several levels: medical, rehabilitative, social and
political and the best way to do that is to work together on a shared agenda.
WHO will be open to work with all interested parties to that effect," stated Dr
Brundtland.

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For further information, please contact Melinda Henry, Office of Press and
Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Tel. +41/22 791 25 35, Fax +41/22 791 48 58,
E-mail: henrym@who.int.
All press releases, fact sheets and WHO information can be found on the Internet
at the
WHO home page: http:// www.who.int

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