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Bowis: Do more to help disabled people in developing countries

Mr President, you, the Commissioner and I all live with a disability. If we are without our glasses, we cannot operate; I cannot read, I cannot drive or avoid bumping into things, but I live in a society where I am helped to overcome that disability and therefore to function, even as a Member of this Parliament. However, if I lived in a developing country I would be less fortunate. One in ten people in developing countries live with disabilities. One in four families in poverty in developing countries has some member living with a disability.

That is the challenge, but this debate is not just about long faces, sympathy and pity; it is about celebrating the abilities of people with disability and seeing how we can enable them to function and to contribute to their own lives, economies and communities.

Our policy, or resolution, is all about ending rejection, ending the concept of a scrap-heap, ending stigma where disability is concerned. We want a policy of prevention, of care, of enablement and of human rights. We want an end to no-go areas for people with disabilities. We want, if I can use the phrase, to see disability sans frontières. We want to see a break with that link to poverty so inevitable for people with ill health and disability in developing countries: no wealth without health, but no income without medicine. No income means no medicine; no transport means no school; no health certificate means no work; no access means no opportunity to prove one's worth. It is not just about mobility, it is about all the disabilities that we have to learn to cope with in our different ways, whether it is sight, hearing, learning difficulties, respiratory problems or seizures.

Our policy must be twin-track, and I use that word advisedly: it is in the guidance that the Commission has produced. It is the twin-track of prevention and care services. It is the twin-track of policy for people with disabilities and policies developed by people with disabilities, decided by them, with their involvement in policy making. We remember with pleasure those Ugandan members taking the seats specially reserved for them in the Ugandan Parliament for people with disabilities.

We want to see support for organisations of disabled people. We want recognition that neglected diseases are some of the biggest causes of disability. Some need those new partnerships to develop drugs; many need access to the drugs that we in the West take for granted.

I live with diabetes. I have said that on many occasions. However, I can function with the pills, blood tests and specialist attention that I receive to overcome that and to live a reasonably normal life. But when I was in Mali and went to see the services there for people with diabetes, I saw one room in a clinic and one in a hospital with people with amputations of legs and arms, losing their sight, their liver destroyed and facing early death.

We need a policy that helps people to overcome. Those people could be contributing to the economy of Mali. Our ACP adopted resolutions in Brussels in 2001, in Cape Town in 2002 and in the Year of People with Disabilities, in 2003, in Europe, we got the guidance note. But that is one of the best-kept secrets in Europe and in the developing world. My plea to the Commissioner is to draw out the excellent words of that and put them into practice. In particular, we do not want to see any more public European money used to continue building barriers for people with disabilities.

The years 1999 to 2009 are the African Decade of Disabled People, set up by the African Union. That target date coincides with the end of our term as Parliamentarians and Commissioners. By that date I hope we will look back and say that we made the effort to help disabled people achieve, to enable them, and to make them real, whole people in the economies and communities in which they live.

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