UWI lecturer: Training needed in health care for disabled women

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

– Faith Ayoung

While people with disabilities have the same general health care needs as other people, they are three times more likely to be denied care and four times more likely to be mistreated in the healthcare system.

The revelation was made by consultant gynaecologist and UWI senior lecturer Dr Vanessa Harry at the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services’ seminar on sexual and reproductive health for women with disabilities on May 22.

Harry said, “The most damaging barriers for women with disabilities are attitudinal barriers.

“Health care personnel may have negative attitudes and assumptions hindering their ability to provide quality care to women with disabilities.”

To rectify this, Harry says proper training is needed to treat patients with disabilities, as patients have complained of mistreatment in the public health care system.

“We cannot assume we know what the needs are of these individuals. We need our students to be equipped with the proper knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that are required to treat them.”

Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox acknowledged the heightened risks faced by women and girls with disabilities and called for specific protection against negligence and violence.

“Some women with disabilities encounter challenges such as physical and communication accessibility issues, attitudinal barriers and limited access to essential information services, education and preventive services required for them to lead healthy sexual lives.

“These challenges can heighten the risks of sexual exploitation, assault or abuse throughout their lives, as highlighted by the National Policy on Persons with Disabilities.”

The policy aims to promote social inclusion and equal opportunities for all citizens with disabilities, fostering an environment that encourages accessibility, inclusion, integration and full participation.

Social development permanent secretary Leonor Baptiste-Simmons said women with disabilities face unique barriers to full realisation of their sexual, reproductive and health rights.

Simmons announced the ministry’s development of new policy and legal instruments to accommodate the principles found in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The CRPD is an international treaty aimed at ensuring equal and full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all disabled individuals.

These instruments, Simmons said, aim to enhance access to sexual and reproductive health products and services, empower women with disabilities and enhance knowledge on preventing and controlling sexually transmitted diseases.

“This convention embodies a new height in the movement, from viewing persons with disabilities as merely ‘objects’ for charity, medical treatment and social protection, towards an appreciation that these persons are individuals with rights who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions based on free and informed consent, as well as being active members of society.”