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COVID-19: Persons living with disability suffering effects of the pandemic

By Andrew Masinde

Added 11th July 2020 02:37 PM

The COVID -19 task force should have a representative for persons with disabilities.

COVID-19: Persons living with disability suffering effects of the pandemic

A special kit for persons with disabilities should be given out to them. Photo by Juliet Waiswa

The COVID -19 task force should have a representative for persons with disabilities.


Tape, 23 years old, is with disability. She hails from Bugaya sub-county in Buyende District. She was recently admitted to mission Kamuli Mission Hospital, in Kamuli District where she expected to give birth from. 

However, because of her disability, she was advised by one health worker in the hospital that she required to go for a caesarean section as she could not manage to deliver normally. Hence she was required to pay sh400, 000 to cater for the caesarean.

Since her mother is not working because of the lockdown, she managed to raise only sh180, 000 which the hospital took but insisted that she had to top up the sh120, 000 before she could be operated.

They failed to top up hence she was asked to leave the hospital even without a refund of the money they had deposited.

"The health worker gave me an injection to stop the baby's contraction and after asked me to go back home to look for the balance. This was done after I had had contractions for two weeks," she said.

When she returned home, she opted to go to Buyende Health Centre 2 but later referred to Kidera Health Centre 4 which was far away so transport was a challenge too.

"We struggled to raise the transport but luckily we were supported by a well-wisher who connected us to the district leadership who offered transport to Kidera Health Centre 4 where she gave birth on 23 of June," she says.

One of the health workers at the hospital revealed that while Wotali was supported to deliver the baby, she went without any cloth, bed sheet or blanket for the baby.

She had no money to even afford a meal while admitted to the health centre where they spent ten days while the health workers monitored her with the baby.

Wotali needs a lot of support from food for her and the baby since she has no breast milk, baby clothes, beddings, soap, medication and psychosocial support to allow her to go through the tough situation.

Wotali is not alone, many persons with disabilities have pre-existing health conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the virus, experiencing more severe symptoms upon infection, leading to elevated levels of death.

Globally, 1 in 7 people is living with a disability of roughly 1 billion people.  Yet their needs are too often overlooked. There are an estimated one billion people around the world -with some form of disability.

80% are living in developing countries. In Uganda, it is estimated that 12% of the population has some form of disability, approximately 4.5 million.

While the COVID-19 pandemic threatens all members of society, persons with disabilities are disproportionately impacted due to attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that are reproduced in the COVID-19 response.

Ronald Luyima, the programme officer inclusive education at National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) says the stop on the Boda Boda transport greatly affected their mobility.

"They cannot move to health centres and markets to seek medical attention and basic items for their families. The enforcement officers never take time to find out why someone is using a Boda Boda. Instead, they just beat and shoot without taking the initiative to know why one is opting for a Bodaboda," he said.

This has left many of them to suffer in silence without any help from the government.  Little is being done to support persons with disabilities, few people come out to advocate for their plight when their services are needed more than ever.

When it comes to the deaf, Luyima says that most of the communicators on television cover their lips with a face mask leaving the deaf people out of the communication since some communicate by reading lips.

For those who are deaf and blind, Luyima said that they use the sense of smell so if they are forced to cover the nose most of the time they will not pick communication.

"People with sensory disability (disability of the senses such as sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste) find it hard to follow any teaching that takes place. The blind will not see what is taught on Television while the deaf will not hear what is on radio, among others," he said.

He revealed that for the case of the blind like him, the SOP of social distancing is not meant to apply to him. He revealed that as a blind person he is supported by another person to guide them to where they are going.

According to Priscilla Kisakye Tiba, Lobbying & Advocacy Officer for Uganda Society for Disabled Children (USDC) says COVID-19 crisis has led to a very challenging time in the education of all learners.

She explained that learners with disabilities now more than ever are finding it equally hard to access education. Although the government has tried to distribute self-study materials, learners with disabilities are still very much left behind.

"There is lack of accessible learning materials like braille machines and paper for the visually impaired which is not only rare but can only be administered by qualified personnel hence parents are unable to assist their children to learn which makes them miss out the more," she said.

Bernah Namutebi, the Monitoring Evaluation & Research (MER) Coordinator at Plan International Uganda says women and girls with disabilities have continued to be physically and emotionally abused in their homes and communities during this pandemic.

Sexual abuse goes unreported since movements are limited.

She revealed that property for the deaf and dumb is stolen under broad daylight while neighbours think the person entering your house is a relative.

"Some men are using the lockdown to rape women living disability, pick money and items of their interest and smartly walk out without anyone questioning them because one is dumb or deaf and cannot make an alarm," Namutebi said.

She added that hospitals are giving little or no attention to expectant mothers with disabilities who manage to seek services. They prioritise money over saving lives of mothers with disabilities," she said.

What can be done

Hellen Grace Asamo, Member of Parliament representing persons with disabilities says that PWD should be allowed to use BodaBodas to ease their mobility to seek medical services, connect from one taxi park to another and look for money to maintain their families.

She suggested the need for a deliberate move to identify and support persons with disabilities with basic needs during this pandemic to ensure that their welfare is well catered for.

"Law enforcers should take time to understand why one has opted to go against the law before acting with impunity to save the lives for persons with disabilities," she suggested.

She added that the government should also come up with a policy to punish all men responsible for their pregnancies because they always abandon them yet most of their families are normally too poor to support them.

"Even health workers who always despise and do not attend to women with disabilities for being pregnant should be punished. Sexual abuse cases for persons with disabilities should be handled and followed up instead of frustrating them with frequent visits to police with no action taken," she added.

The COVID -19 task force should have a representative for persons with disabilities. A special kit for persons with disabilities should be given out to them with food, masks, sanitizer and soap.

The government should ensure that all health care facilities that provide testing and services for COVID-19, including quarantine and isolation services are accessible and inclusive.

Engage people with disability and their representatives in planning for the COVID-19 response, to address the needs of all persons, including in peripheral and remote areas.

Adapt alternative modalities for provision of healthcare for people with disability, such as home visitation programmes or telehealth based on the local context to sustain their health care services and COVID-19-related needs.

"There is, therefore, need for government to consider learners with disabilities and hence produce and distribute materials that are inaccessible formats like braille, large print, videos with sign language," she said.

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