Hesperian Health Guides

Health care is a human right for all

In this chapter:

Good health care prevents problems that make disabilities worse. Good health care also prevents health problems caused by disabilities. Treating a modest problem, at the right time—such as treating a pressure sore caused by sitting or lying in one position too long—stops it from turning into a life-threatening crisis.

a woman using sign language.
We must promote good health with good nutrition, physical activity, reproductive health care, and prevention and treatment of health problems. We must also change the conditions of our lives so we have power over our own health.
a woman speaking.
In Thailand we pay less than US$1 for medical care in state hospitals.

Health care must be made available to all disabled women, regardless of social status.Good health care includes free or low-cost health services, insurance, or access to funds to pay for health care, and public transportation that is easy to use. This is especially important for women who are isolated or poor.

a blind woman touching her breast while thinking.
I know this lump might be dangerous. But what shall I do? The medicines are too expensive and the clinic is very far. Besides, everyone will probably laugh at me.

Poverty and health

Economic and trade policies worldwide have created more poverty, fewer resources for health care, and greater social differences between people. These inequities have made it harder for women to get health care for themselves and their families. User fees for health care are another barrier to health services. Other financial barriers, such as the cost of medicines and transportation, can make health care unaffordable.

a woman speaking.
What good is it to go for a checkup? Even if the checkup is free, the medicines won't be. My family can't afford to buy another medicine for me.

It is very hard for women with disabilities to get health care. In most countries in Africa, for example, only 1 out of every 100 people with disabilities has access to the health services he or she needs. Added to the lack of services and facilities is the cost, distance, physical barriers, and harmful attitudes. Even when a woman has some money, the health services available are rarely appropriate for the health needs of women with disabilities, especially their reproductive health needs.

Breaking barriers in Nigeria

Ekaete Judith Umoh is from the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria and is a polio survivor. Today, she is sometimes called "Mama Mainstream," because of her insistence that all health care programs include girls and women with disabilities at every step of program planning and services. "She who wears the shoe knows where it hurts the most," Ekaete says. "We are women and entitled to whatever services are provided for other women in the society."

In 2000, Ekaete founded the Family-Centered Initiative for Challenged Persons (FACICP), a non-governmental organization that works to ensure that the rights and needs of disabled people, especially women and girls, are respected in all health care and development programs.

a disabled woman speaking with a group of other disabled women.
We are women and entitled to whatever services are provided for other women in the society.

FACICP's Health Care Without Barriers Project is specifically focused on including the access needs and participation of women with disabilities in the health sector. "The aim of the project," Ekaete writes, "is to make reproductive health care services, including information on HIV/AIDS, accessible to women with disabilities. We are in the process of translating simple reproductive health information into Braille for blind women, and we now hold monthly meetings to discuss sexuality education, especially as it relates to pregnancy, parenting, and disability."

FACICP also works in partnership with the Society for Family Health (SFH), an organization that provides health education about a wide range of women's health issues. "SFH agreed to invite us to any training program or workshop they conduct to further raise awareness of the health needs of women with disabilities," Ekaete told us. FACICP works with SFH to make sure workshops are held in places with access for wheelchairs and that sign language interpretation is provided, so deaf women can fully participate. With SFH training, disabled women can become family health educators in their communities.

Ekaete and her colleagues are also challenging governments, multilateral organizations, and civil society to begin using a "disability lens" in all their development work. They have proposed, for example, that World Bank-funded projects include people with disabilities in training, technical assistance, consultations, project funding, and distribution of material resources. This will ensure that the health rights and needs of people with disabilities are always in focus and not forgotten. As Ekaete reminds us, "People with disabilities are everywhere, entitled to the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the citizens of any community."

This page was updated:30 Nov 2023