Open Letter to Pres. Weah: Include People with Disabilities in Preventative Actions and Response to the Coronavirus outbreak in Liberia
Dear Mr. President,
The National Union of Organization of the Disabled (NUOD), an umbrella organization for all Disabled People Organizations in Liberia extends heartfelt greetings on behalf of people with disabilities in Liberia.
First of all, we want to congratulate the tireless efforts that your government has taken to prevent and contain the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in Liberia. In particular, we welcome the enforcement of the preventive measures announced by the Ministry of Health on March 21st, with particular emphasis on:
- the creation of a special task force with the tasks to advise the government on decision making based on scientific evidence and support in communication actions;
- the closure of all schools (public and private) for time indefinite;
- banning of large public and private gatherings with not more than 10 people;
- closure of all entertainment centers;
- imposing the mandatory implementation of preventive measures (such as hand washing with soap and clean water) by all public and private institutions, including commercial operators, with the purpose to prevent the spreading of the Coronavirus.
We also want to welcome the real-time provision of information from NPHIL to the public in alignment with the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control. In particular, we welcome the activation of the Incident Management System, IMS by the Ministry of Health and the establishment of the national Executive Committee on Coronavirus (ECOC) to coordinate the nation’s response. We also wholeheartedly welcome the stimulus measures being proposed by H.E. George M. Weah which has been approved by the National Legislature.
NUOD writes this letter to add its contribution to these efforts, and call on your attention to the inclusion of people with disabilities (PWDs). It was noted in countries where the outbreak has already occurred that people with disabilities are a group that is at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 because of existence of barriers to accessing basic public health information and information on prevention and hygiene, barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, their dependence on physical contact with the environment or assistants to obtain information or for additional physical support. Moreover, people with disabilities may be at greater risk of developing more severe cases of COVID-19 if they become infected due to existing health conditions as well as barriers to accessing health care. Additionally, they may also be disproportionately impacted by the outbreak because of serious disruptions to the services they rely on. In this regard, NUOD considers it a priority that additional measures shall be taken to ensure that persons with disabilities are not disproportionately affected by this pandemic.
To give a more concrete view of the problem, NUOD recalls that the World Health Organization Health (WHO) estimates that at least 15% of the world population are people with disabilities, whereas in developing countries like Liberia the numbers are even higher. Therefore, if the COVID-19 prevention and response measures that are put in place fail to recognize this group that represents 15% of the population who are highly at risk of infection, its effectiveness is certainly undermined.
Since the outbreak, it has become a glaring reality that persons with disabilities are still being left behind with limited attention given by the public. People with disabilities barely have adequate information on the COVID-19 response and have little or no means of daily survival.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, International Disability Alliance (an organization that represents the interests of people with disabilities at the United Nations), and other reputable entities have already taken steps to ensure that the actions taken by the States in the scope of prevention and response to the Coronavirus outbreak don’t leave people with disabilities behind. Therefore, NUOD hereby presents our recommendations for endorsement and we trust that the government of the Republic of Liberia shall adopt these recommendations in the best interest of the nation.
Recommendation 1: Persons with disabilities should be provided with information on infection prevention, public restriction plans and services offered, in several accessible formats.
- In the dissemination of information regarding COVID-19 in the media, and in particular related to official government interventions, should include subtitling, national sign language, braille, high contrast and information in large letters;
- All communication must be done in simple language;
- Specific telephone lines must be made available for blind and deaf persons and email addresses or numbers to send text messages to be used by deaf people must be free of charge;
- Sign language interpreters must be available at every health facility reserved for COVID-19 cases;
- Sign language interpreters working in emergency situations must receive the same health and safety protection as other health professionals who deal with COVID-19;
- Information about available social support services, including food distribution should be clearly communicated to people with disabilities in accessible formats.
Recommendation 2: Additional protective measures should be taken for people with certain types of disabilities.
- Entrance doors reserved for people with disabilities, handrails for ramps or stairs, access handles for doors reserved for people with reduced mobility must be constantly disinfected;
- Proactive testing and stricter preventive measures should be introduced for groups of people with disabilities who are more susceptible to infection due to respiratory complications or other health complications caused by their disability;
- As much as possible, sites reserved for COVID-19 patients should have full accessibility for persons with disabilities. Entrances should be made accessible for a wheel chair or crutches users.
Recommendation 3: Rapid / brief awareness and training of the personnel involved in the response is essential.
- Government officials and service providers, including emergency responders, should be trained on the rights of persons with disabilities and the risks associated with respiratory complications for people with specific disabilities;
- The taskforce should include a representative of persons with disabilities to help direct all approaches targeting them;
- Awareness raising about support for people with disabilities should be part of all protection campaigns;
- A simple and practical guide on how to serve people with disabilities should be developed for doctors and other health personnel involved in the COVID-19 emergency response.
Recommendation 4: No institutionalization or abandonment based on disability is acceptable.
- People with disabilities should not be institutionalized as a consequence of quarantine procedures. They should be treated on equal terms with the others;
- Any interruptions in social services must have the least possible impact on people with disabilities and should not imply their abandonment;
- Family and social support networks, in the event of quarantine, must be replaced by other networks or services.
Recommendation 5: People with disabilities who need health services due to COVID-19 cannot be depreciated based on their disability
- Public health communication messages must be respectful and non-discriminatory;
- Instructions for health personnel should highlight equal dignity for all, including people with disabilities, and include safeguards against discrimination based on disability;
- While we understand that the urgency is to prepare the conditions for responding to an eventual outbreak of the virus, the rapid awareness of medical personnel is key to ensuring that people with disabilities are not left behind or are systematically downgraded in response to the crisis.
NUOD, representing people with disabilities in Liberia, believes in inclusive leadership of your government in response to the COVID-19 crisis in which all citizens participate and feel equally served. The immediate adoption of these measures will signify the validation of principles of social inclusion, dignity and non-discrimination that guide this government and consequently the realization of the “pro poor” mantra it professes.
NUOD would like to take this opportunity to express its willingness to collaborate with your government in implementing these measures.
We trust that our requests will receive your highest attention.
Naomi B. Harris
National Union of Organizations of the Disabled-NUOD
Email: [email protected]