On 7th March 2023, EUD attended the online hearing “Towards a European Health Union and European Global Health Strategy fully inclusive of Persons with Disabilities” held by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). The hearing was introduced by Mr Pietro Barbieri, President of the EESC Permanent Group on Disability rights (PG DIS).
Panel 1 focused on access to health for persons with disabilities in the EU and explored the barriers to healthcare faced by persons with disabilities as well as measures taken at the EU level to ensure better access. It was highlighted that the new World Health Organisation (WHO) report shows that 16% of the world’s population have a disability but that persons with disabilities are still denied their right to healthcare globally. For instance, results in the report show that the mortality rate is twofold higher for persons with disabilities. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted this issue further with 59% of Covid related deaths being persons with disabilities. This lack of access to healthcare for persons with disabilities not only violates Article 25 UN CRPD, but it is also a reflection that we are not close to fulfilling the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 3 that aims to achieve Universal Health Coverage.
Ms Hannah Kuper, Research at the London School of Hygiene, discussed the need to rethink health services in order to improve health equity for persons with disabilities by removing certain barriers, such as accessible health facilities. Ms Kuper mentioned several of the so-called “must haves” to create disability-inclusive healthcare, such as governance, health financing, routine data that’s analysed, awareness, education and empowerment, affordability (disability benefits and health insurance); and training for healthcare workers on disability. Indeed, a multidisciplinary approach is required.
The EU has been a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) since 2011. However, Ms Christine Redecker from the European Commission explained that the Convention’s implementation objectives have been only partially achieved, with access to healthcare for persons with disabilities singled out as not being sufficiently prioritised in national policies. To fill in the gaps in the UN CRPD’s implementation, the EU launched a Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030, which offers support to national, regional and local authorities in their efforts to deinstitutionalise persons with disabilities and make it easier to live independently. A soon to be launched action under the EU4Health programme will develop guidelines on access to healthcare for persons with disabilities.
Ms Pirkko Mahlamäki, Executive member of the European Disability Forum (EDF), discussed the importance of involving persons with disabilities in the development of disability-inclusive healthcare systems – in the design, implementation and monitoring of health policies. Indeed, persons with disabilities and their representative organisations are experts on how to be included and treated when it comes to healthcare access. This inclusion must start from the beginning. However, the spaces and platforms to have these consultations must be accessible. Ms Mahlamäki also highlighted the importance of sexual and reproductive healthcare for women with disabilities, and the need to take a human rights approach to tackle this issue – the systematic discrimination of persons with disabilities in healthcare.
An important issue to raise for the deaf community when accessing healthcare was raised – that information on health doesn’t tend to be provided in an accessible way/format and must reach deaf persons. In this way, accessibility must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as the diversity of persons with disabilities must be accounted for as well as their multiple and intersecting identities. This highlights the importance of developing competencies for disability inclusion at all levels – e.g. training on non-discrimination and on reasonable accommodation measures.
EUD is committed to supporting the work to ensure deaf persons across the EU can enjoy their right to available, quality, sustainable, and accessible healthcare. Later this year, EUD will be producing a set of policy recommendations on access to healthcare for deaf persons in the EU.