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Ireland and WHO are working together to improve access to assistive technology globally

Ireland and WHO are working together to improve access to assistive technology globally
Ireland and WHO are working together to improve access to assistive technology globally

 


Ireland is becoming a global leader in innovation in leveraging digital technologies as a tool to address various barriers to access to care. In line with the World Health Organisation, Ireland recognizes the importance of mobilizing assistive technology to help the 2.5 billion people in need worldwide, including older people, people with disabilities and those living with problems. This includes ensuring equal access to assistive products such as glasses, hearing aids, walking aids, wheelchairs, prosthetics and communication and memory devices.

In March 2024, Anne Rabbitte, TD, Irish Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Disability at the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, agreed to a €12.5 million donor agreement between the Government of Ireland and the WHO, aimed at on accelerating the accessibility and availability of assistive technology for those who need it.

Cooperation has been building for years. Back in 2022, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, launched Global Assistive Technology Report, together with the Director-General of WHO and the Executive Director of UNICEF. The Taoiseach emphasized the importance of international cooperation to ensure more equal access to assistive technology, to achieve a society where everyone is included and enabled to live their best life.

Minister Rabbitte said: “Ireland has identified a serious need to invest in public health systems alongside the WHO. The current risk of growing health needs combined with a shrinking number of health and social care professionals globally reveals an urgent need for us all to act now. Ireland's contribution aligns with the recommendations of the Global Report on Assistive Technology and supports a five-year initiative to achieve a model national health system that incorporates assistive technology. The program will explore and demonstrate how digital technology can facilitate people-centred services, assistive technology policy, improve the accessibility and appropriateness of assistive products, enable efficient service delivery systems and increase the capacity of healthcare staff to identify, screen, refer and provide technology support for all those who is needed.”


Health personnel in Tanzania participate in on-line training on auxiliary products, as part of an overall program aimed at providing simple assistive products through community and primary care settings – making products such as walking aids and reading glasses more accessible to people within their local area. Digital technology was instrumental in enabling effective learning through the platform and enabling healthcare professionals to be supported by their mentors through communication applications after training. Credit: WHO/Kylie Shae

With the aging of the global population and the rise of non-communicable diseases, it is estimated that 3.5 billion people will need assistive technology by 2050. Dr. Yukiko Nakatani, WHO Assistant Director-General, Access to Medicines and Health Products, welcomes this important contribution from Ireland and their leadership in the digital initiative. She said: “The 2018 World Health Assembly resolution on assistive technology calls on WHO to take the necessary steps to promote equal access to assistive technology in our effort to build a more inclusive world. Our partnership with the Government of Ireland will support WHO in achieving our mission of ensuring health for all, everywhere, with assistive technologies as an important enabler of well-being, inclusion and participation.”

Through Ireland's contribution and in collaboration with its wide network of partners, WHO will develop evidence-based guidance for Member States on strengthening access to assistive technology by understanding, prioritizing and encouraging increased innovation and use of digital solutions. The work will also include national, regional and global projects testing digital solutions designed to address persistent barriers to access such as: digital platforms that empower users with information about assistive technology and how to access it; digital product tracking for supply management; and online training and support for healthcare workers. The results and lessons learned will help countries expand their knowledge, skills and capacity to provide assistive technology as an integral component of universal health care.

“Leaving no one behind” means ensuring that people with disabilities, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and anyone who needs assistive technology are included in society and able to live healthy and dignified lives.

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Click below to learn what assistive technology is, who needs it, and how it improves lives

Assistive technology is an umbrella term for external products that individuals use to maintain or improve their bodily functions. Common examples are wheelchairs, glasses, prosthetic limbs, white canes and hearing aids, as well as digital solutions such as speech recognition or time management software. Assistive technology helps people in all aspects of their lives, including education, employment, fitness, leisure and other everyday activities such as self-care, cooking and reading.

Most people will need assistive technology at some point in their lives, especially as they age. While some may need assistive technology temporarily, such as after an accident or illness, others may need it for a longer period or throughout their lifetime. It is usually needed by older people, children and adults with disabilities, people who have been injured or have medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke and dementia.

Equitable access is key

Improving access to assistive technology enables the inclusion and participation of users in their family, community and all areas of society, including political, economic and social spheres. Assistive technology has a positive impact on the person, their family and friends and has wider socioeconomic benefits. For example:

  • early acquisition of hearing aids for young children supports their development of language and communication skills, limiting negative effects on their education, future employment and participation in the community;
  • providing appropriate wheelchairs facilitates mobility, improves individuals' access to education and employment while reducing health care costs due to reduction of secondary complications such as pressure ulcers and contractures;
  • therapeutic footwear for diabetes reduces the incidence of foot ulcers, prevents amputations and their associated impact on individuals and the burden on health care systems; and
  • Providing seniors with assistive technology in a timely manner can improve their independence and safety and enable them to live at home for as long as possible.

Sources

1/ https://Google.com/

2/ https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2024-ireland-and-who-work-together-to-improve-access-to-assistive-technology-globally

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