Members of the blind and disabled group in Dazuuri, Ghana, where CGIAR spent time to determine challenges farmers encounter that keep them from adopting smart agricultural techniques. The report of the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda mentioned the importance of including people with disabilities in the development agenda. Photo by: C Peterson / CIAT / CGIAR / CC BY-NC-SA

How can we better address global poverty? Start with improving data collection, says new research commissioned by groups pushing for disability, mental health and old age to be included in the post-2015 development agenda.

The U.N. high-level panel mentioned the importance of including people with disabilities in a post-2015 development agenda as part of its report last month. But the aging population and people with mental health issues seemed to have been left out.

“The HLP report does not appear to take account of an ageing global population, failing to envision a future where older people will comprise over one fifth of the world’s population by 2050,” Sightsavers Director of Policy Dominic Haslam told Devex.

Sightsavers, HelpAge International and ADD International commissioned the Overseas Development Institute to produce the study, titled ”Old age, disability and mental health: data issues for a post-2015 framework,” which noted that people aged 60 and above are expected to reach 2 billion by 2050. This could pose huge problems for societies as the elderly won’t be able to work or may have limited opportunities to do so.

But despite this reality, there remains only one global agreement - the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing - that calls on governments to include “aging” in their national policies and in their quest to meet the MDGs.

The picture is largely the same for mental illness: The research argues that while there are not often strong links to poverty eradication, it “heightens the probability of being socially excluded, such as lack of education [or] financial stress.”

An estimated 450 million people suffer from the disorder, according to the WHO. In Nepal, for instance, suicide has outpaced pregnancy and childbirth complications as causes of death among pregnant women, the ODI study says.

Efforts to tackle mental health are however gaining momentum: Member states at last month’s 66th World Health Assembly adopted a resolution that provides a mental health action plan with set targets, such as getting 80 percent of countries to develop a national policy for the cause, and increasing by 20 percent service coverage for people suffering from severe mental disorders.

Data revolution

Limited resources, capacity and political will factor in this debate. But lack of data, as with any development challenges, is also making it difficult for governments and aid organizations to address the challenges faced by these particular groups of people, like their access to basic services like education or health care.

 Typical household surveys often don’t cover older people or people with disabilities. And while there have been efforts among the aid community to include, for instance, the latter in the wider development agenda, “such efforts are uncommon,” Haslam argued.

The research recommends several adjustments in local and internationally-comparable household surveys, such as extending surveys to people on the streets and orphanages and not just to those living in traditional household units.

Surveys should also involve all members of the household “regardless of age,” as for instance the research notes women 50 years of age don’t always get sampled on questions regarding domestic violence.

As for the post-2015 development agenda, meanwhile, the research proposes “disability” and “older age” to be included as “cross-cutting issues associated with disadvantage, in much the same way as gender has been included in the MDGs” as well as setting particular objectives, like disability being included as a target under job creation, education and health.

 “By improving the quality of data available, we’d be able to hold governments to account and ensure no group is being left behind,” Haslam said.

He adds: “We often don’t recognize the links between these issues and other, more ‘talked about’ development topics, such as education. But being disabled more than doubles the chance of never enrolling in school in some countries, and so more needs to be done to ensure children with disabilities are given the quality education they deserve.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.