Original Research

Accessing community health services: challenges faced by poor people with disabilities in a rural community in South Africa

Lisbet Grut, Gubela Mji, Stine H. Braathen, Benedicte Ingstad
African Journal of Disability | Vol 1, No 1 | a19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v1i1.19 | © 2012 Lisbet Grut, Gubela Mji, Stine H. Braathen, Benedicte Ingstad | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 February 2012 | Published: 10 October 2012

About the author(s)

Lisbet Grut, Department of Health Research, SINTEF, Norway
Gubela Mji, Centre for Rehabilitation Studies, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Stine H. Braathen, Department of Health Research, SINTEF Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Norway
Benedicte Ingstad, Department of Community Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway


Poor people with disabilities who live in poor rural societies experience unique problems in accessing health services. Their situation is influenced by multiple factors which unfold and interplay throughout the person’s life course. The difficulties do not only affect the person with a disability and his or her family, but also impact on the relevant care unit. The barriers are rooted in a life in poverty, upheld and maintained by poverty-reinforcing social forces of the past and the present, and reinforced by the lack of the person’s perspective of the health services. This article explores how difficulties may interact and influence access to and utilisation of health services, and how this may render health services out of reach even when they are available. The study reveals that non-compliance is not necessarily about neglect but could as well be a matter of lived poverty. The study was based on in-depth interviews with people with disabilities and family members, and semi-structured interviews with health personnel. The data analysis is contextual and interpretive. When offering health services to people with disabilities living in resource-poor settings, services should take into consideration the person’s history, the needs, and the resources and abilities of the family group. Rethinking access to health services should transcend a narrow medical institutionalization of health professional’s training, and include a patient’s perspective and a social vision in understanding and practice. Such rethinking requires health service models that integrate the skills of health professionals with the skills of disabled people and their family members. Such skills lie dormant at community level, and need to be recognized and utilized.


Disability; poverty; health services; patient's perspective; qualitative research


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