New Unicef focus on supply gap for child disability products

25 July 2015

The global supply gap in products for children with disabilities and how to fill it has been highlighted in a new discussion paper.

Unicef and the World Health Organization’s (WHO), Assistive Technology for Children with Disabilities paper outlined steps towards tackling long-standing deficiencies in the supply of assistive technology – products that help children with disabilities better communicate, become more mobile and carry out household tasks, among other things.

The paper was launched in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the first ever forum to discuss the issue this month, attended by Unicef, governments, partners, leading disability advocates and NGOs.

Among the paper’s recommendations are actions to estimate the need for products and the resources available, the creation of legislation and policy to support their delivery, providing funding and increasing the affordability of the technology, training and partnerships.

Unicef procured $3.38 billion (£2.2 billion) in essential supplies and services for children last year, but only a small fraction of this supported the procurement of assistive products.

The development agency said there was large potential for it to expand its focus in assistive product procurement by applying successful strategies in product innovation and market influencing, which have been used for other life-saving health supplies.

“Between 85 and 95 per cent of children who need assistive products do not have access to them,” said Shanelle Hall, director of Unicef’s supply division. “Plainly, we have before us a defining moment in which we can use our collective expertise, knowledge and experience to right this wrong.”

Unicef said solving the problem would require better understanding of the issues that limit access to such products. It cited a global survey that showed availability of repair services was just as important as the provisioning of assistive products. But 75 per cent of respondents in developing countries said repair services are either limited or not available.

Also, regulatory requirements make it difficult for diagnostic and rehabilitation equipment to enter many countries, which sometimes forces manufacturers to stick to standard specifications despite the diversity of individual needs.

Zafar Mirza, WHO’s coordinator for public health, innovation and intellectual property, said: “Assistive products can make a critical impact on the lives of children with disabilities, and can mean the difference between the enjoyment of rights and a life of isolation and deprivation.”

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