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Overview of assistive products

This video by Emma Tebbutt, Guilia Oggero and Chapal Khasnabis introduces assistive products and provides an overview of GATES assitive devices.
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GIULIA OGGERO: In this step, we will provide an overview of assistive products or devices and present the WHO Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology, or GATE initiative. We will first discuss definitions for assistive products and assistive technology. Assistive products are defined as any external product, including devices, equipment, instruments or software, especially produced or generally available, the primary purpose of which is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, and thereby promote their well-being.
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Assistive technology is the application of organised knowledge and skills related to assistive products, including systems and services.
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WHO estimates that 1 billion people will increase to 2 billion by 2050 mostly because a rise of non-communicable diseases and people living longer everywhere.
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Also within population, the need is changing. Around the world, we witness a decline in communicable diseases, whereas non-communicable diseases and ageing are on the rise. Pictured here are two typical examples. The woman on the left has had an amputation due to diabetes, and will be able to stay mobile with the help of an artificial limb and walking frame. The woman on the right has dementia and is able to continue to live at home with the help of assistive products. Here she is using an interactive calendar to help her to remember her grandson Peter’s birthday. The calendar also helps her with time orientation and to remember to do daily tasks.
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People are living longer everywhere, and, as we age, we start to need assistive products. And the more we age usually means more assistive products. We may need assistive products due to a disease, a stroke for example, but many of us will need products to address the functional decline that results from the normal ageing processes, such as reading glasses, hearing aids, a walking stick, and so on.
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The global goals have 169 targets for sustainable development, which will set international agendas until 2030. Sustainable development goal three specifically relates to good health and well-being.
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This is how WHO represented the sustainable development goals, with goal three at the centre to highlight how good health and well-being are essential for the achievement of all the other goals. This emphasises the need for good health and well-being as the first step to education, employment, poverty reduction and so on. If you go one step further, you could say that assistive products are essential for many people to have good health and well-being. But until now, assistive technology has not been prioritised by the health sector. This needs to change. Assistive products need to be seen as essential items alongside medicines, vaccines, and medical devices.
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Assistive products are not only essential for good health and well-being, but also for the achievement of most of the other sustainable development goals. We will provide a couple of examples on the next two slides.
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As you can see in this slide, assistive product are needed for many people to access education or employment. And in turn to reduce poverty and hunger, gender inequality, and to enable people to have access to the same opportunities and services as everyone else in society, to be able to participate on an equal basis. The picture shows a young doctor who had a spinal injury a few months ago. A wheelchair has enabled her to continue with her medical training and pursue her dream of becoming a specialist. Please refer to a journal article in the See Also links below that provides examples of how assistive technology is needed for achievement of all the 17 sustainable development goals.
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Despite this huge and growing need, WHO estimates that only 1 in 10 people have access to assistive products.
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Some of the key reasons include: high cost of products; low awareness, both from individual and minister of health, of need and benefits; lack of systems or personnel to provide products in sustainable manner. There is often also fragmentation of services and/or funding where exists; And finally, the lack of prioritisation by health sector.
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This example shows older people in different settings. On the left, without access to assistive technology, and on the right, with access, and an accessible environment as well.
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It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years. I’m sure we would all aspire to this. And if it can happen on a population level, there would be huge socioeconomic benefits as well. As an example, Martin Bjorkman is 92 years old and lives alone. He uses 10 different assistive products to enable him to continue to live in his own home.
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First, with stick when he was in the 70s, and gradually adding products– a personal emergency alarm in case he falls, grab bars and a shower seat in the bathroom, kitchen gadgets, a pressure cushion on his chair, a simplified mobile phone so that he can keep in touch with his family, a rollator so that he can go out shopping alone, hearing aids, reading glasses, and a magnifying glass.
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To address the substantial gap between the need for and provision of assistive technology, WHO established the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology, GATE. GATE’s vision is a world where everyone in need has high quality, affordable assistive products to lead a healthy, productive and dignified life.
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The first output of GATE was the publication of the Priority Assistive Products List, abbreviated as APL. APL is a minimum list and follows in the footsteps of the WHO list of essential medicines. WHO expects countries to develop own list according to needs and the context as well. GATE is now working on other activities to support countries to implement the list framed around the six P. The six P includes People at the centre who are surrounded by Place, which is surrounded by Provision, Personnel, Products, and Policy. GATE’s technical work is all based on the six P needed for effective, sustainable assistive technology implementation. WHO is developing tools to support countries to implement assistive technology programmes within universal health coverage.
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These tools will be framed around the 6 P that you can see in the diagram.
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Additional WHO resources related to assistive technology are listed here and in the links below, such as resources for the global priority research agenda for assistive technology, wheelchair guidelines and wheelchair service training packages, and also the standards for prosthetics and orthotics.
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Please join the GATE community and write any questions or comments you might have in the Comments section below.

In this Step, Emma Tebbutt, Guilia Oggero and Chapal Khasnabis from World Health Organization’s GATE team, provide an overview of assistive products and present the WHO Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE) initiative.

First, they define assistive products and assistive technology and then illustrate the need for assistive products given the estimated increase in population and changing needs of populations. They emphasize that assistive products are essential for many people to have good health and well-being and achievement of most of the SDGs.

They provide examples of assistive products and highlight barriers to access. The presentation concludes with an introduction to the GATE initiative and discussing the WHO Priority Assistive Products List (APL) and WHO’s ‘6P’ framework.

What experiences do you and/or friends and family members have with assistive products? Share your experiences in the comments area below.

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