UCP Wheels for Humanity (UCP Wheels) is proud to announce the opening of a new office in El Salvador, and the launch of a multifaceted effort to increase access to assistive technology and physical therapy for people with disabilities throughout the country. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has granted $848,766 to the initiative’s therapy component, which will be complemented by progressive wheelchair service trainings for healthcare providers and the direct provision of wheelchairs to people in need.
There are an estimated 620,000 people with disabilities in El Salvador, and 4% of the population is estimated to have become disabled due to the 13 years of armed conflict and gang-related violence that has followed. For these individuals, access to a properly fitted wheelchair or other mobility device is essential to their health and their family’s wellbeing, and physical therapy can lead to increased independence and improved quality of life. Yet there are approximately 465,000 people in El Salvador who need a wheelchair and cannot access one, and from 2000-2005 there were only 118 physical therapists registered as working within the Salvadoran health sector—constituting a ratio of 1 physical therapist per 5,254 individuals who need one.
Thankfully, UCP Wheels for Humanity is in a unique position to provide relief. In 2009, through our initial partnership with USAID, we launched one of the world’s first place-based mobility access initiatives in Indonesia. That program has since become a globally recognized model, elevating UCP Wheels as an industry leader, and spurring a shift in the investments of USAID, the World Health Organization, and others towards the development of sustainable, community-based systems that can support the equipment and service needs of people with disabilities long-term.
There is great need and opportunity for us to make a similar impact in El Salvador, and we’re proud to be working with some world-class partners on this effort. UCLA/Orthopaedic Hospital Center for Cerebral Palsy will be assisting with the creation of the physical therapy training, and the Salvadoran Institute for Integrated Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Health, and the Teletón Foundation for Rehabilitation will be the local organizations helping with implementation.
The program will constitute a significant shift in the way rehabilitation services are provided in El Salvador, providing greater access to mobility and physical therapy nationwide. Moreover, the program will be an opportunity to test a model that has global potential as a method for eliminating the impracticalities of therapy within a developing country context. Who knows where we’ll go next!