THE number of people living with disabilities has increased over the years, says Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons director Dr Sitiveni Yanuyanutawa.
Dr Yanuyanutawa said the 11,402 people living with disabilities obtained from a survey in 2009 and conducted throughout the 14 provinces in Fiji was just the tip of the iceberg.
Dr Yanuyanutawa said the figure also covered those with mental disorders.
"Unlike other known diseases out there in the medical field, mental disorder is complicated as it does not have a single cause," he said.
"Mental disorder has many causes as it normally deals with the brain's coping mechanism.
"Recently we had started a buddy system where people in villages have been identified as volunteers to look after and manage those with mental disorders."
Dr Yanuyanutawa said these "buddies", as the volunteers, dealt with mentally challenged persons directly by administrating medication and assisting them daily.
"People living with mental disorders need good sleep, water, food and shelter like a normal person does.
"If we can provide them with these necessities then we have solved a lot of the problems usually associated with their care.
"The care of these people falls directly with the Social Welfare Department but we must all remember that these are people who are part of our society and community so therefore their security should be our responsibility as well."
Dr Yanuyanutawa said everyone was interdependent and this in itself was a form of disability that no human could ever escape.
"If we learn to accept and care for these special people then there will be no need for any of them to be begging or living on the streets."