Haider Ali, Pakistan’s only athlete at the Rio Paralympic Games, has made the country proud by winning its first medal in the long jump competition. An inspiring and dedicated long jumper who suffers from cerebral palsy, the 31-year-old athlete won the bronze in the long jump event by managing a distance of 6.28 metres. This is the second time that Haider has represented the country at the Paralympic Games, and made us all proud, as he won the silver medal for Pakistan in Beijing, 2008 with a record jump of 6.44 metres.

While Haider is a shining example of someone who overcame personal adversity and excelled in what he put his heart too, others in Pakistan have not had the same opportunities. In the absence of a regular census, approximate numbers estimate that the total population of people with disability (PWDs) in Pakistan is 5.035 million, with a growth rate of 2.03% of the total population. Only 14 percent of persons with disabilities are employed while the rest are reliant on family members for financial support. A recent research paper, ‘Moving from the Margins: Mainstreaming Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan’, produced for the British Council by the Economist Intelligence Unit, found that excluding PWDs leads to economic losses of as much as US$11.9bn to US$15.4bn in Pakistan, or 4.9% and 6.3% of the country’s GDP. By 2018, losses could be as high as US$21.4bn.

These numbers are shocking to say the least, as there are only 50,000 places available in schools for PWD, a number largely inadequate and completely inaccessible for children in rural areas. Pakistan has 500-600 trained mental health professionals for a population of 186 million. Pakistan’s special education provision is dismal and considering that the country will lose an excess of 33 million US dollars each day every day due to its inaction - as well as ensure a continuation of a cycle of poverty for those who are disabled - much more needs to be done to integrate PWDs within our society so their rights to a dignified life are recognised.

It is time that policy makers, international NGOs and disabled peoples’ organisations unite and form a coordinated, committed and integrated effort to strengthen the legislation that recognises the rights of PWDs. People like Haider prove that anyone can achieve greatness, but they may need the right opportunities and support provided by the state and others. Their right to be contributing members of society should not be ignored any longer.