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Wednesday, 8 September, 1999, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Call for global disability campaign
Angolan landmines victims
Landmines are a major cause of disability
Twelve eminent figures, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and scientist Stephen Hawking, call for a global effort to help prevent disability and protect disabled rights.

They are among figures from countries including China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, who have signed a Charter for the Third Millennium on disability.

The World Assembly of Rehabilitation International adopted it in London on Thursday.

It calls for governments to demonstrate the political will to prevent easily avoidable conditions and illnesses which cause disability.

It is estimated that more than 600 million people in the world are disabled - some 10% of the global population. Eighty per cent are in developing countries.

Dr Arthur O'Reilly, president of Rehabilitation International, called for a UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

He said disabled people had waited too long for their rights to be recognised and protected.

Programme of action

The charter, drafted under the chairmanship of British peer Lord Alf Morris, the world's first minister for disabled people, updates one produced 20 years ago.

Rehabilitation International claims this formed the basis for the UN's World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled People.

Child being vaccinated
Immunisation programmes need to be strengthened, say campaigners
The organisation says preventative work, such as immunisation programmes, could prevent many disabilities.

It wants governments to redouble their efforts to ensure these are not abandoned.

Economic problems in many countries have led to cutbacks on preventative work, concentrating resources on treatment instead.

Lord Morris said the charter set out "clear, humane and urgent priorities" for improving the status and well-being of disabled people.

"This new charter is about new hope and a new vision for a new century; one of empowerment and genuine social inclusion for disabled people across the world," he said.

United Nations

The United Nations said it has been campaigning for disabled rights since it was set up.

It said its commitment to assisting the disabled has been "evolving since it began addressing the needs of individuals injured in the Second World War".

"Injuries resulting from violent conflicts continue to receive the organisation┐s attention today in various organs and agencies of the system," it added.

Diseases such as meningitis, armed conflict and landmines are among the major causes of disability in the world.

The UN estimates that at least 250,000 people have had to have false limbs fitted because of landmines.

One country which has been particularly affected by disability is Cambodia, where 1.4 million of the eight million population has been disabled as a result of poverty, war and human rights abuses.

See also:

01 Apr 99 | Asia-Pacific
China encourages adoption
31 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
Broken promises for Thailand's disabled
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