UNICEF to introduce 24 new assistive products into the global Supply Catalogue

This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, UNICEF is proud to announce a new suite of assistive products in both child and adult sizes that will be available for procurement.

16-year-old Sajad Al-Faraji, who uses a wheelchair, smiles while sitting in a school class in the Heitzing district of Vienna, Austria.
UNICEF/UN0120997/Gilbertson VII Photo
03 December 2021

UNICEF is introducing 24 new assistive products, plus accessories, into the Supply Catalogue, including child-sized active wheelchairs and hearing aids.  

This means that by early 2022, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) will be able to offer a full range of paediatric hearing aids and wheelchairs to government partners and development programmes, a first for a UN agency.     

Assistive technology makes inclusion possible

Assistive products help children with disabilities to move, see, hear, learn and communicate with their peers and the world around them.

For Sehad, 4, who lost her hearing due to the constant bombing near her home in Syria, an aid means she can hear her parent’s voices, understand her teachers and play with her friends.

The little girl Sehad, aged 4 years, is wearing a hearing aid and smiling to the camera.
Sehad, 4, who lost her hearing due to the constant close-range bombing near her family home during the conflict in Aleppo, Syria.

“It’s about participation and inclusion – in school, in play, in society,” says Dennis Soendergaard, UNICEF Product Innovation Specialist, who is part of the team ensuring assistive products reach the children who need them.  

“You can’t do any of it if you can’t participate, and you can’t participate if you don’t have assistive products,” says Dennis.  

Only 1 in 10

However, currently of the nearly 240 million children who have disabilities, only 1 in 10 are estimated to have access to the assistive products they need.

UNICEF is working to change this. With ATscale, the global partnership for assistive technology, UNICEF is contributing to the ambitious goal of providing 500 million people with assistive technology by 2030.   

The introduction of the new products to the Supply Catalogue will help UNICEF and partners achieve this. Through global tenders, UNICEF and WHO have been able to negotiate low-cost prices which will ensure these highly technical and specialized pieces of equipment can be quickly and easily ordered by field teams, partners, and governments.  

All products have been reviewed against technical specifications provided in the Assistive Product Specifications from WHO to ensure they are of appropriate quality for challenging locations.

The right wheelchair for the user  

Fifteen different wheelchair models will be made available, including chairs suitable for transporting users, for active use in urban, rural or rough terrain, and postural support chairs, along with at least four support and pressure relief cushions.  

The chairs will be available in adult and child sizes, and where appropriate wheelchairs are selected, they will be able to withstand use in challenging settings, including remote, hot, humid, dry and dusty environments.  

“It is critical a wheelchair is the appropriate type and size, fitted for each user based on their individual need,” says Dennis. “Often, people think a wheelchair is just a wheelchair, and they’ll procure one of the more low-cost versions available, such as the transport chair.”

“Unfortunately, these are often not appropriate for long-term use, especially use outside by an active child. In the settings where UNICEF works – for example in a dusty refugee camp – a chair like this breaks down quickly, often within a few months.”

An inappropriately fitted chair can also cause more harm than good for a child, leading to pressure sores or postural damage.  

“These sores are very difficult to heal and extremely painful,” says Dennis. “They can also become infected and, if the child is far from a health facility, as many children in the world sadly are, they can cause severe complications.”

Hearing aids  

Five different hearing aid options are now available for procurement through UNICEF. This includes programmable, behind-the-ear hearing aids, which come in child or adult sizes, and can be configured to suit mild, moderate or profound hearing loss.

Pre-programmed hearing aids will also be available, however only in adult sizes as these are not suitable for children whose hearing is still developing. These come with inbuilt channels, which means they do not require a specialized audiologist to fit and calibrate the aid for each patient.  

“This is a new and exciting concept within hearing aid technology,” says Dennis. “While pre-programmed aids cannot be adjusted to meet a users’ precise level of hearing loss, they still provide suitable support and will be a great option for areas where audiologists are not readily available.”

A woman health worker shows a piece of paper where B letters are impressed to a boy using a hearing aid at Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, in the Gaza Strip.
A health worker assesses a boy wearing a hearing aid at a local NGO in Rimai, the largest city in the Gaza Strip, State of Palestine.

With the lack of professionally trained audiologists, a barrier to providing hearing aids in some low-income countries, this product will go a long way to increasing access.

Several countries are already looking to procure hearing aids through UNICEF Supply Division, with one of the first orders of more than 1,000 hearing aids already on the way to Rwanda.

“This means soon hundreds of children will be receiving hearing aids, some for the very first time,” says Dennis.