To main content

Studies on living conditions

Surveys on living conditions among people with activity limitations in developing countries

Contact person

Interviewing village people in Zambia. Photo: SINTEF

Disability and society
The last 20–30 years have seen an important change in our understanding of disability. From a previous individual perspective on causes and interventions, a social and civil rights approach has taken over. Much of the focus is now on the human and physical environment and how this might reduce or enhance an individual’s level of activity and social participation.

Contributing to improved living conditions
National policy development aimed at improving living conditions in general and among people with disabilities in particular is dependent on the availability of quality data. In many countries these have been lacking, and both the United Nations and National authorities have emphasised the need for this information in order to further develop disability policies.

Information about people with disabilities and their living conditions have the potential for contributing to an improvement of the situation faced by this group in many low-income countries, as has been demonstrated in high-income countries. The studies have been applied to inform policy development, for capacity building, awareness creation, and in specific advocacy processes to influence service delivery.

Understanding disability
The approach used to define disability in these studies relies heavily on concepts inherent to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). We have demonstrated that by dissociating physical impairment from an individual’s limitations and abilities, the focus of disability can be redirected towards removing or reducing barriers that limit activities and restrict social participation and thus improving an individual’s social situation.

Data for a dialogue on disability policy
The first seven representative studies are part of a regional initiative to establish baseline data on living conditions among people with disabilities in Southern Africa.

The Namibian survey was carried out in 2001–2002, Zimbabwe in 2002–2003, Malawi in 2003–2004, Zambia in 2005–2006, Mocambique in 2007–2008, Swaziland and Lesotho in 2009–2010. Botswana started in 2011 and will be finalized in 2014.  A new study was initiated in Angola in 2013.

SINTEF has also carried out two similar studies with different funding sources. In 2005–2006 a regional study (Eastern and Western Cape) was carried out in South Africa. In 2013–2014 SINTEF has carried out a second study in Zimbabwe, funded by UNICEF and in collaboration with Ministry of Child Health and Welfare.

A question of human rights
The studies have demonstrated that level of living conditions among disabled people is systematically lower than among non-disabled people. This implies that people with disabilities are denied the equal opportunities to participate and contribute to their society. It is in this context that people with disabilities are denied their human rights.

Sharing of knowledge
The initiative to carry out the studies in in southern Africa was developed in a joint project between Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD), the Norwegian Federation of Organisations of Disabled People (FFO), and SINTEF Health Research.

Major stakeholders in the countries are the following:

National Federation of Disabled People in Namibia (NFDPN), University of Namibia, Multidisciplinary Research and Consultancy Centre (MRCC), and Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation.

2003: National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe (NCDPZ), University of Zimbabwe, Departments of Psychiatry and Rehabilitation, and Ministries of Health and Child Welfare and Social Welfare.
2013–14: United Nations Childrden's Fund (UNICEF), Ministry of Child and Health Welfare.

Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (FEDOMA), University of Malawi, Centre for Social Research (CSR), and Ministry responsible for People with Disabilities in the Office of the President.

Zambia Federation of the Disabled (ZAFOD), University of Zambia, Institute of Economic and Social Research (INESOR) and Central Statistic Office (CSO).

South Africa
University of Cape Town.

Fórum das Associações Moçambicanas dos Deficientes (FAMOD), The National Statistics Institute (INE) and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM).

Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD), Central Bureau of Statistics.

The Federation of Organizations of the Disabled in Swaziland (FODSWA) , Central Statistical Office.

The Botswana Federation of the Disabled (BOFOD), SAFOD, University of Botswana, Statistics Botswana, Office of the President.

The National Federation of the Disabled in Nepal (NFDN), Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MOWCSW), National Planning Commission (NPC), Ministry of Education (MOE), Valley Research Group(VARG) and Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

Participation and control
The uniqueness of this research project is the inclusion of people with disabilities and their organisations in the entire research process where they play a particularly active role in designing, data collection and implementation of the results of the studies.
The studies are integrated in SAFOD’s long-term strategy for strengthening the organisations of disabled people in Southern Africa.

Key Factors

Project start



Funding is provided through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the Atlas Alliance, and by the three countries’ ministries.



Southern African Federation of the Disabled

Norwegian Federation of Disabled People
Advisor Hanne Witsø

SINTEF Health Research
Dep. of Living Conditions and Health Services
Professor Arne H. Eide

Download the WHO World disability report


Reports on Living Conditions Among People with Activity Limitations

Botswana report (pdf 1270 kb)

Nepal report (pdf 1370 kb)


Swaziland report (pdf 1725 kb)


Lesotho Report (pdf 1603 kb)


Zambia Report (pdf 700 kb)


Namibia Report (pdf 385 kb)
Zimbabwe Report (pdf 432 kb)
Malawi Report (pdf 597 kb)
Mozambique Report (pdf 526 kb)


Download the flyer Living Conditions (pdf 90 kb)
Order the book Exploring the Living Conditions of Disabled People

Read about the survey in Cape provinces in South Africa
Read report about Attitudes and Beliefs about Albinism in Malawi