Disabled Community Sidelined in Covid-19 National Response Efforts

-NDC, NOUD crave massive awareness for members of their community

By: R. Joyclyn Wea
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Liberia in March of 2020, persons with disabilities say they have been left out of the covid-19 response mechanisms.

Many of these marginalized people have no clue about the dire health crisis that the country is experiencing since the outbreak—and according to the leadership of the community, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government is yet to develop a public awareness program that will capture the disabled community, especially the death-dumb and visually impaired.

“Since the outbreak in March of last year, there has been no awareness campaign designed for the disabled community to inform them how to stay safe throughout the outbreak, Fallah Boimah, Deputy Director for Administration at the National Commission on Disability (NCD) says in an interview.

“They have not informed us about covid-19; all the information we get from the radio is for us to wash our hands, keep a social distance, and wear facemask. Sadly, some of our members who have hearing problems are totally left out of the fight against the pandemic,” Boimah, a visually impaired elderly man noted.
The NDC has no representation on any of the committees President George Weah set up to lead the fight against the coronavirus.

Deputy Director Boimah sees this not only as an affront to the disabled community, but shows further how the community is perceived in the country by the national leadership.
“We are not a part of the committee that was set up by the president to fight covid-19 nor are we part of any covid response mechanism. This even makes it even difficult for the leadership to raise awareness among its members,” he said.

There is currently no accurate statistics on the number of disabled people in the country but a 1997 UNICEF study says that 16 percent of the population is people living with disabilities.
Of that, 61 percent struggle with mobility, 24 percent are visually impaired, seven percent are deaf and eight percent have an intellectual or psychosocial disability.

The Swedish International Cooperation Agency Development (SIDA) in 2014 estimated that close to 20 percent of the population of people with disabilities became incapacitated during the over 14 years of devastating civil war that ended in 2003 and the deadly Ebola outbreak in 2014. The SIDA study also revealed that 99 percent of people with disabilities live in extreme poverty.

However, the marginalization that the NCD and its members currently face amid the Covid-19 is unlike the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, when the NDC was adequately empowered by the government to conduct awareness across the disabled community within 15 counties through an auxiliary groups.

Similarly, the National Union Organization of the Disable (NOUD), which advocates for the rights and social inclusion of persons with disabilities, has complained of being left out of the coronavirus response initiatives.
The organization’s Executive Director, Naomi Harries, told JHR Fellow via phone, that that the disabled community is being ignored by the government.

“Unlike the Ebola virus pandemic, persons with disabilities are not fully engaged with the covid-19 response mechanism in terms of creating awareness,” she said.

Madam Harris bewailed “When the Ebola virus came we had a lot of awareness campaigns that people with disabilities were involved with and things were moving gradually.”

Explaining constrains disabled people are faced with in educating the disabled community across Liberia on Covid relative information, Madam Harris bewailed “we have eight persons moving around, but these eight persons cannot reach out to all the 35 (thirty-five) different disable people organizations.
Persons with disabilities especially the deaf and blind communities that are considered most vulnerable groups lack access to covid-19 information.

Madam Harris indicated “I would say we are not really involved though we are trying our best to see how we can partner with other disabled to make sure that members of the community get covid information. There is a serious need to focus on the deaf and blind communities that are the most marginalized group.
She also disclosed the lack of support and funds to go about covid related activities noting that most people in this category are surviving on hand-outs in the streets.

When quizzed on the safety of these people in the wake of covid-19 Madam Harris lamented “We asked them to social distance. Those of them that can see and those who cannot see, we asked them to use the cane when anyone is talking to them while wearing the mask because if you ask them to stay home, what they will eat.

According to her, people are not really identifying with the vulnerable population anymore due to fear of contracting the virus. “Most of our members go around begging, but at the end of the day, they have nothing to take home.
The government however said it has been doing all in its power to reach everyone in the country with Covid-19 messages.

The country’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Francis Kateh, said they are reaching out to disabled people and the general public through covid messages aired on the radio and their staff at the community level.
In addition to the vaccines, the government has been communicating with people to continue to wear their masks because the transmutability of the virus is around the nose and mouth as such wearing the masks serve as a prevention mechanism.

Though Dr. Kateh did not confirm nor denied the exclusion of PWDs from the covid-19 response activities, he said health authorities are reaching out to all through health messages on every radio stations across the 15 counties.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Front Page Africa.

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