Provision of wheelchairs in Tajikistan: report reveals insufficient levels of supply

WHO/Satish Mishra

A new report published by WHO reveals that Tajikistan’s current levels of supply of quality wheelchairs are insufficient and that service facilities, such as maintenance and repair centres, are not provided or are underfunded. The report, the first of its kind, focuses on the economic aspects of the provisioning of wheelchairs. It assesses access to, quality of, and the need for wheelchairs and provides an overall framework for effective policy development, including 3 models for improving the production of wheelchairs. The strength of the wheelchair provision system influences the way a person accesses health services and integrates into society, and has an impact on education and employment opportunities.

Strengthening the rights of people with disabilities

Since 2014, Tajikistan has adopted policies and national strategies to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities and improve the provision of “assistive devices”. These are devices that are designed to assist people with disabilities. Among these devices, the wheelchair plays an important role in enhancing the individual’s functioning and independence in society.

Limited quality and inadequate levels of supply

Tajikistan imports around 800 wheelchairs per year, and a small number are assembled or produced by local manufacturers. However, the number of wheelchairs currently supplied is insufficient, as the need exceeds 11 700 annually.

The quality of the wheelchairs currently procured is generally not consistent with international standards. Additional services, such as fitting, training, and maintenance and repair, are either not provided or are underfunded.

Recommendations: import more and build on national capacities

In the short term (1–3 years), the Government of Tajikistan needs to import a larger number of wheelchairs of higher quality. To reach universal coverage by 2023, the Government needs to import 10 000 wheelchairs annually, over the next 3–5 years.

In the medium-to-long term (5–10 years) the Government needs to invest in national capacities either to assemble wheelchairs locally or to manufacture wheelchairs using locally sourced material. These options would also provide additional economic opportunities, including employment and the acquisition of broader manufacturing and production skills.

Continuous initiatives and strategies are important to strengthen the system of wheelchair provision to ensure that all Tajiks who need a wheelchair have access to one of adequate quality and suitable design without the risk of financial hardship.

The approach and findings presented in the report share many fundamental aspects related to the need and provision of wheelchairs that are found in other low-resource settings. Thus, the study will be of interest to other countries in a similar situation.