Healthcare for Disabled PopulationsWorldwide, estimates have determined that more than 1 billion individuals live with some form of disability. In developing countries, access to healthcare is difficult enough with rural areas being far from main health centers and low socioeconomic status preventing optimal diagnosis and treatment. For disabled populations, low mobility leads to transportation difficulty, creating an additional barrier that compromises health and access to the nearest healthcare providers. Established in 1998, the Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT) is a United Kingdom-based nonprofit organization that focuses on providing healthcare for disabled patients in developing countries through increased access to telehealth.

Disability as a Public Health Issue

Although 15% of the world lives with a form of disability, every person experiences varying limitations and healthcare needs. Article 25 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that those living with disabilities must receive the highest former of care without discrimination. Despite some countries upholding Article 25, many developing countries cannot provide the proper care for disabled individuals.

Beyond discrimination experienced in the health sector, individuals with disabilities face various barriers to healthcare. To begin, they typically encounter prohibitive costs for health services and transportation since a disability can create the need for a specially adapted vehicle in order to travel to the nearest healthcare professional. Estimates have stated that more than half of people experiencing a disability are unable to cover the costs they incur in healthcare, compared to approximately a third of people for those who are able-bodied. Also, physical barriers prevent disabled people from being able to access certain buildings and essential medical appointments. Inaccessible medical equipment, poor signage and inadequate bathroom facilities all comprise potential barriers. For example, medical professionals can often deny disabled women breast and cervical screening since the tables are not adjustable to one’s height and mammography equipment cannot accommodate women who are unable to stand.

The Swinfen Charitable Trust’s Mission

The Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT) focuses on the disabled population of the developing world. SCT creates telemedicine links between healthcare centers in the developing world and medical professionals globally, who provide complementary diagnosis and treatment services. SCT represents the longest operating telemedicine nonprofit in existence. To date, there are 366 referring hospitals and more than 700 specialists providing their expertise to disabled people in developing countries free of charge. People can download the app called SCT Telemedicine on mobile phones and SCT has established telemedical links in 78 countries.

SCT raises money that goes toward improving the telemedicine experience and accessibility for disabled patients in developing countries. To begin, financial contributions provide round-the-clock system operators who have the task of analyzing and allocating new cases to specialists. Also, the money raised grants on-site support to partners for telemedical coverage implementation in local communities. This is especially crucial in remote areas of the developing world. Finally, any additional funds are allocated to expanding care to new countries or villages that are struggling to deliver adequate healthcare for disabled populations.

Improving the Lives of the Vulnerable

With a rising technologically dependent world, the Swinfen Charitable Trust is attempting to bridge the gap between poverty and healthcare access in developing countries, particularly for vulnerable populations. By establishing the means for disabled populations to access telemedicine, the disabled population can overcome healthcare barriers and improve their quality of life and life expectancy significantly.

– Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr