#SpeakerSpotlight: Phyllis Heydt

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Amongst the 80+ speakers we have so far confirmed for #WLGH19 is Phyllis Heydt, Office of the WHO Ambassador for Global Strategies. Co-founder of the Aspen Management Partnership for Health, on the Board of the Financing Alliance for Health and in the Formation Board for ATscale, Phyllis’ expertise has infiltrated multiple global healthcare corporations, with an impressive career track that also saw her join the Global Fund’s fight against some of the world’s biggest healthcare challenges; HIV/ Aids, TB and Malaria.

However, today we shine our #SpeakerSpotlight on one of her main passions; access to healthcare  for people with disabilities. This week, we’ve been reading ‘The Missing Billion- Access to Health Services for People with Disabilities’, a report co-authored by Phyllis together with Prof. Hannah Kuper from LSHTM and a Steering Committee including Partners in Health, UNICEF, the Special Olympics and others. The report focuses on health access and outcomes of the 1 billion people living with disabilities who, the report claims, are currently ‘left behind’ in global community health work and provides a wealth of practical principles for change and progression in this field.


Phyllis’ report sits in the context of the health community’s overarching goals for 2030. Global organizations like the United Nations and WHO have set ambitious targets in their promise for more inclusive healthcare, committing to ‘reach the unreached’ and to ‘leave no one behind’. Benefitting marginalised groups will be a core focus of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but, as Phyllis points out, this will require a greatly accelerated progress and commitment from all sides to provide better health services for those with disabilities. The report makes the case that in fact the current lack of access for people with disabilities not only violates the rights of people with disabilities but makes UHC and SDG 3 unattainable.


Phyllis explains the critical importance of healthcare access for those with disabilities; specialized medical care or rehabilitation services are needed to treat underlying health conditions or impairments, on top of general healthcare provisions like vaccines or antenatal care. Those with disabilities are more vulnerable to poor health, says Phyllis, due to the existence of an underlying health condition/impairment, higher levels of poverty, stigma, and discrimination, and barriers faced to accessing healthcare services.


Concerning the theme of our conference, the report also dives into why, in many situations, these barriers are even more pronounced for women with disabilities, who face dual discrimination on the basis of gender and disability, higher healthcare needs and even more barriers to accessing services.

A true ambassador for global health equity, we welcome Phyllis to our Women Leaders in Global Health conference and look forward to her contribution to two panels; as speaker in ‘Health, health outcomes and access to health services for women with disabilities left behind’ and chair of ‘Innovation for Health’. Check out the full #WLGH19 conference agenda here.


Laura Wotton