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(MissionNewswire) The first-ever World Report on Disabilities has recognized the University Don Bosco in San Salvador, El Salvador, for its leadership in prosthetic and orthotics education in Latin America and for providing opportunities for adults and children with disabilities. The 2011 report was produced jointly by the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

The Salesian school began the first formal training program in the prosthetics and orthotics fields in Latin America in 1996 and since then, about 230 students from 20 countries have graduated with skills that are in demand in their home countries.

“The training program shows how education and training not only benefit the individual student, but also entire communities, as the students return to work in local hospitals and clinics, and even train others in some cases,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. fundraising arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

Fr. Mark adds that most recently the University Don Bosco was able to provide assistance in Haiti, helping children and adults who have had amputations following the 2010 earthquake. Immediately following the earthquake, seven professional technicians aided, providing nearly 200 artificial limbs and more than 100 sessions of orthopedic assistance in Port-au-Prince.

“The aim is to help the people. We know what state the country is in after the earthquake. We know this will also help us in our lives and in our profession,” says Alexis Mendoza, one of the volunteers. Volunteers will be involved in assessing the condition of the patients, planning and fitting the artificial limbs and providing orthopedic help.

During a trip in 2010, Prof. Rolando Martinez Panameño, dean of the School of Re-habilitation Science, estimated that out of approximately 10,000 people in need of help, 4,000 have had an amputation.

In addition to volunteer trips, the University partners with the Ministry of Health, Physicians for Peace and other nongovernmental organizations in Haiti to establish a national training and certification program for the Haitian prosthetic and orthotic community. Students take part in a distance learning course in their native language of Creole, while also training with US professionals.

“We are constantly working to expand our services in Haiti to ensure that people with disabilities are able to contribute to the rebuilding of their country. We know that even before the earthquake, children and adults with disabilities faced enormous challenges as resources in Haiti were stretched far beyond capacity,” says Fr. Mark, citing the World Report on Disabilities statistics that show children with disabilities are less likely to start school than non-disabled children and have lower rates of staying in school. In addition, in OECD countries (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), the employment rate of people with disabilities (44 percent) is slightly over half that for people without disabilities (75 percent).

With additional support from the World Health Organization, distance learning programs available in Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French are now also offered in Angola and Bosnia and Herzegovina, says Fr. Mark.

Almost one-fifth of the estimated global total of one billion persons living with disabilities — or between 110-190 million — encounter significant difficulties including discrimination and lack of adequate health care and rehabilitation services, according to the World Report on Disabilities which was developed with contributions from more than 380 experts and is expected to be a key resource for countries implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The report also cites difficulties associated with a lack of access to transportation and information and communication technologies.

People with disabilities have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. Children surrounded by poverty, especially those with disabilities, face uncertain futures and overwhelming obstacles.

“Children with disabilities have the same rights as all children, and they deserve the same chance to make the most of their lives and to make their voices heard,” says Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director. “We need to break down the barriers that prevent full participation of children with disabilities — from programs that ignore their needs, to prejudice that discounts their ability to contribute.”

The remarks were part of Lake’s recent call on Dec. 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, for a greater investment in helping children and young people with disabilities to realize their rights. Lake also renewed the call for universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


PHOTO: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

Related MissionNewswire article: GLOBAL: UNICEF Calls for Children with Disabilities to be Included in All Development