People of Determination, Policy, and the Role of Public Health

In April 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched a National Strategy for Empowering People with Disabilities and in conjunction with that announced that people with disabilities will henceforth be called “people of determination”. Additionally, those tasked with providing services for these people at various organisations will be called “services officers for people of determination.” The aim of this inclusive language was a move towards a more open society that did not judge or discriminate, implicitly or explicitly, against people with different talents and abilities.

In addition to this policy, the UAE also passed the Disability Act that became federal law in 2006 (Federal Law No. 29/2006). The aim of this act is to “provide high-quality medical care and social services to all people with disabilities; boost public awareness; and contribute to integrating people with disabilities into society.” Further, the UAE is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a human rights instrument targeted conspicuously towards social development by shifting attitudes and approaches towards people with disabilities worldwide.

These policies, some of which are over a decade old, are aimed at creating a society whereby people of determination can enjoy the same rights and freedoms as anyone else, and are active members of the society, as opposed to “objects of charity”. Furthermore, they are also intended to highlight areas where adaptations, structural and attitudinal, have to be made to ensure that these rights are not violated. 

One of these fundamental human rights is access to healthcare services. According to the World Health Organisation, people of determination report seeking more health care than people without disabilities, and they have greater unmet needs. Historically, health promotion and prevention activities have seldom targeted people with disabilities (WHO). Any deficiency in the healthcare sector will affect people of determination more than their counterparts due to their increased vulnerability to secondary conditions, co-morbid conditions, age-related conditions, engaging in health risk behaviors and higher rates of premature death.

It is widely known that people with disabilities tend to experience lower levels of health, not only due to the aforementioned risks but also to the effects of social marginalization, poverty, denial of access to health and social services and discrimination (Bickenbach et. al 2016). This is where public health, with its muti-disciplinary nature and widespread reach, kicks in to assess the situation not just from a medical perspective, but from a social/political/economical/religious perspective as well, in order to deliver comprehensive solutions and improve the quality of life for people of determination.