The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a range of challenges to the disability community across the world, particularly those in low resource communities. In these unprecedented and challenging times, we all have a role to play in supporting vulnerable communities This calls for a humanitarian response that identifies barriers and provides innovative solutions for this interest group to cope with the current reality of COVID-19. The response measures adopted ought to be able to reach everyone and this can only be achieved through meaningful engagement of persons with disabilities.
Response measures should not deny persons with disabilities of their rights. There should be specific measures geared towards supporting persons with disabilities of all ages, taking into account their diverse needs and specific vulnerabilities.
Central to this approach should be extensive economic support as a huge segment of the population in Kenya is grappling with tough economic times due to the negative impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic is further exacerbating existing vulnerabilities across the country, particularly for the urban poor. To bring this perspective closer home, Nairobi is presently in a near-lockdown situation at the moment yet almost 80% of its populace is dependent on daily earnings and cannot stock up on food. Families living in informal settlements like Kibera, where The Action Foundation operates, are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to inadequate access to water and sanitation services and cramped living conditions. Many parents or caregivers in these area work in the informal economy and are not able to stay at home without losing their livelihoods.
A key dimension to disability in relation to COVID-19 is based on ‘Do No Harm Principle’. We have to ensure that information and public health services are accessible to persons with disabilities. Targeted forms of disability-related economic, social and technical assistance are needed during the COVID-19 pandemic
The need for a disability-inclusive response in regards to access to health care services cannot be over emphasized. Persons with disabilities and their caregivers need priority access to health care services. Children with disabilities for instance are very susceptible to contracting the virus due to underlying health conditions that they may have such as respiratory disorders. Health services need to be accessible and inclusive ensuring that provision of health services is done on equitable grounds. World over, persons with disability are at great risk of being left behind or deprioritized in health service provision. A young girl living with Downs Syndrome in our Health and Well-being program recently had breathing difficulties during evening hours. The government of Kenya had just imposed a dusk to dawn-7pm-5am- curfew as a COVID-19 mitigation measure. Stranded, her mother reached out to The Action Foundation’s Occupational therapist through a Helpline that we set up for Tele-health and emergency medical response during the pandemic. The Occupational Therapist made arrangements for the child to receive immediate medical attention at one of the County’s major hospitals where she was attended to as an emergency case and thereafter hospitalized for two days. We laud the efforts and prioritization of the case as well as the medical attention and care to the infant by the particular hospital. Persons with disabilities will need particular support if they are to isolate in the event that they are found to be showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus.
Limited medical resources pose a threat of how medical support might be allocated to persons with disabilities.Where healthcare professionals may not able to provide the same level of care to everyone as the cases increase, as has been the case in countries that have been hard hit by the pandemic, medical guidelines need to be non-discriminatory. They should follow international law and existing ethics guidelines for care in the event of disaster and emergencies; which emphasize that persons with disabilities should not be discriminated against. In producing these guidelines authorities must take into account their commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, especially article 11 where States must take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk.
Life Post-COVID -19 for all individuals and societies will generally take a turn around where there will be a ‘new normal’. Recovery programs post-COVID-19 should be responsive to the situation of persons with disabilities. Extensive social protection interventions and economic stimulus will be needed to recover from the human and economic costs of the crisis. Hopefully the aftermath of this crisis, will contribute to inclusive and equitable health, economic and social systems that will be a ground for a world that recognizes and strives to uphold and promote the rights of persons with disabilities.