With the increasing impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the population, it is important to consider its impact on persons with disabilities (PWDs). This is because PWDs are likely to be hit harder by the pandemic. The pandemic can impact on PWDs in several ways such as inadequate access to nutritious food, water, health care facility and the correct public health information. Going forward, Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government’s plans to minimise the spread of COVID-19 must also consider the needs of PWDs.

Key areas that PWDs often require assistance during COVID-19

According to the World Bank, over one billion people globally live with some form of disability. Although PNG has a National Policy on Disability Jenkin and others found in their research that only about two percent of PWDs receive government services in the country.

PWDs often face various barriers, and can be deepened with intersecting disadvantages such as gender, age, ethnicity, and income. It is important to note that the needs of PWDs cannot be clustered together and addressed as one group. This is because different impairments require different types of interventions, resources and services.

PWDs are some of the most vulnerable people, and have high chances to contracting COVID-19 pandemic. This is because they have pre-existing challenges ranging from health to socio-economic issues. The pandemic exacerbates these challenges, putting PWDs at a higher risk compared to people that do not have any form of disabilities.

With the possibility of subsequent COVID-19 pandemic waves, PWDs’ needs must be well understood and included in the country’s preparedness, monitoring and prevention plans. Key areas that PWDs often require assistance include the following:

  • Access to correct public health information. With different forms of impairments, it is often challenging for PWDs to access the right kind of information relating to COVID-19 pandemic. Some PWDs may encounter difficulties reaching health care facilities because public transport are often not suitable mode of travel for them.
  • Access to clean and safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH). This is paramount and can be a challenge for PWDs. Particularly for those in poor living conditions, or in densely populated areas such as the informal settlements. Furthermore, inaccessible infrastructure or long distances to water sources can be challenging. It is even more challenging for girls and women with disabilities to manage menstrual hygiene during the pandemic. This may lead to security and gender-based violence related issues.
  • In the event of the next wave of COVID-19, PWDs may face additional challenges such as food insecurity as a direct result of transport disruption. Most PWDs depend on their care-givers for physical support and may encounter barriers to stockpiling food because of control measures such as social distancing, inaccessible infrastructure, and lack of equal tansport accessibility.
  • PWDs with medical conditions are extremely vulnerable during COVID-19. Those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes or respiratory related issues require close attention and support to access appropriate health care services, medicine and equipment. COVID-19 may impact on their chances of survival.

Interventions that can be used to assist PWDs during COVID-19

  • Relevant government agency should work with key stakeholders such as the Disabled Persons Organisations network and the PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons, to understand and cater for the needs of PWDs.
  • Public health information should be translated into braille and sign language.
  • Public health information should be communicated down to the local-level governments and wards. This includes informing local health workers on how to assist PWDs.
  • Make public transport more user-friendly for the PWDs.
  • Government should work closely with the private sector, civil society organisations and communities to ensure that PWDs have easy access to WaSH facilities in their communities.

 

This article was first published in the Post-Courier’s 22 July 2020 edition and on its website’s commentaries and features page.