COVID-19 AND PERSONS WITH DIFFERENT ABILITIES: Call to Action.
COVID-19 is a phenomenal occurence for there is no proven response or intervention globally. There are no research studies, medical and scientific trials, and social experiments. We are all blindsided fighting this invisible enemy, including more than 1 billion people with disabilities. In this, we should ensure no-one is left behind in the response and all interventions are inclusive.
We are fortunate in Kenya and as a continent Africa since we are experiencing the pandemic after other developed countries. We now have the evidence and knowledge on the DOs and DON’Ts and if implemented accordingly, the fatalities will be lesser. Unfortunately, the crisis has outweighed some of the best government and healthcare systems, worrying stats for developed first-world countries and even more worrying reality for our developing third-world countries.
In Kenya, My thoughts is that the pandemic is revealing the gaps in our systems which are previously acknowledged and not yet addressed. A good serving of lessons and pending actions however we are critically fidgeting on the challenges facing Children and People with disabilities and their families. The reality is having a disability does not by itself place them at high risk of COVID-19 but the discrimination, limited/lack of access to information,social services, health care and the barriers in the basic systems make overcoming COVID-19 as people with disabilities a far more challenging situation.
We also need caution when scaling the vulnerability of people with disabilities, some forms of disability are more vulnerable than the rest. Conditions such as cerebral palsy affecting the respiratory system and rare diseases affecting the immune systems could have severe cases.
However, we are witnessing that in some countries policies and government orders have come at the compromise of people with disabilities. Cases of misrepresentation, deprioritizing healthcare services, discrimination accessing essential services have risen to question who is at value.
A lot of solid recommendations through the discussion on Overcoming COVID-19 as PWDs:
- The need to ensure proper representation of PWDs in global, national, county, local discussions for inclusive decision making.
- The need for OPDs (organizations for people with disabilities) are more proactive in liaise with the government and the communities.
- The need to ensure access to accurate, accessible, and timely information on the prevention, intervention and response services. Information provided on different platforms such websites, hotline numbers, whatsapp messaging, government notice.
My recommendations would include:
- The need for the government to issue a statement affirming the equal rights of people with disabilities in accessing the quality medical care. We are hoping the complications of deprioritizing and discrimination faced by PWDs in other countries will not happen. Yet, persons with disabilities require clear directives on the response strategy and how their needs will be met.
- The need to ensure service providers ( Doctors, nurses,police,etc) have the necessary knowledge and training on their interaction with PWDs. Reported cases of police brutality emphasize the need for inclusive strategies which is possible with regular consultations from PWDs. For example, People with severe cerebral palsy require extra support — posturing, positioning, neck control, feeding,- we are calling for doctors/nurses and frontline responders to have basic training included in the COVID-19 training. We are also calling for COVID-19 Training for caregivers in the different treatment facilities.
- The need to promote and secure the income of PWDs and their families. The government of Kenya allocated 10 billion to vulnerable groups as cushioning for the pandemic yet there are no allocated systems and procedures on the distribution of the money. Government needs to utilize the national census data to ensure that the money reaches those who need it most. Also the consideration of financial support for the caregivers who are caring for the vulnerable persons.
Overcoming COVID-19 as PWDs will require collective individualism in the sense, the Government has the major role to guarantee the equal rights for everyone to access information,healthcare, and basics for living. Nevertheless, we all have a role as the PWDs community to help each other and manage the crisis together.