Stephen Hawking and PWD Service

PWD services need to be expanded. May the life of Stephen Hawking make us rise to this challenge.

Stephen Hawking, the cosmologist who unlocked the secrets of the universe and made them understandable to laymen, died on March 14 at age 76. At age 21, he contracted the debilitating motor neuron disease which made him sit on a wheelchair; later, he had to use an electronic voice synthesizer in order to communicate. His life is a testament on what people with disabilities (PWD) can do given a supportive society.

Around 1.5 million Filipinos have disability. Congress enacted RA 7277, the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, in 1992 defining PWD rights and privileges, and the responsible agencies. In 2015, DOH issued AO 0004 guiding agencies on their PWD health programs including the removal of physical barriers; and the extension of health, rehabilitation, and assistive services.

Despite these, many PWDs remained unable to access services. Why? Mainly because no standard definition of disability has been adopted, resulting in PWD undercount. According to the WHO, 15 percent of the global population is disabled. The low rate found in the Philippines (1.57 percent in 2010) may be due to our non-adoption of an internationally comparable PWD definition. The Philippine Census merely asked household respondents, “Does (person concerned) have any physical or mental disability?” Stigma, of course, could make households under-report disability.  

PWD health services are assessment and diagnostics, provision of assistive devices and technology, and rehabilitation. A survey of nine government hospitals in Metro Manila and Davao in 2016 showed their lack of capability to perform assessment and rehabilitative services. One can infer that PWD services outside metropolitan areas are even more limited.

PhilHealth now reimburse the ZMORPH benefit package for the mobility-impaired members, covering diagnostic services, assistive devices, and rehabilitation. However, program uptake has been low due to the very limited contracting with hospitals, which arise from facilities’ lack of PWD service capability. 

The Employees Compensation Fund provides benefits to workers who figure in work-related accidents. However, the utilization of this fund has been low due to difficulties of workers in proving that their injuries were work-related. 

PWD services need to be expanded. May the life of Stephen Hawking make us rise to this challenge.

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About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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