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The Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) is urging all governments in Pacific Island Countries and Territories to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their COVID-19 planning, response and related actions.
Ensuring that persons with disabilities are protected and responding effectively to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that their exposure and vulnerability to the pandemic are recognised and properly understood.
Necessary measures need to be in place to safeguard their inclusion, effective participation, protection and safety in the response. Persons with disabilities with high support needs and pre-medical conditions including respiratory or other health complications associated with their impairments will require particular attention from carers, personal assistants and family members. Containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bathe.
Most persons with disabilities are unemployed, poor and live in overpopulated areas with poor living conditions. This exacerbates their exposure to the outbreak and limits their ability to put in place measures to respond to the outbreak, hence increases the risk of their vulnerability. Persons with disabilities and their families will be exposed to the COVID-19 outbreak. In the likely event of this, they face barriers in accessing information due to the lack of availability and accessibility of critical information to guide them in taking necessary precautions, identify where to go to seek help and who to contact in cases of emergencies.
Lack of access to education for most persons with disabilities further contributes to their vulnerability to the outbreak as they may not have the capacity to understand the technical and medical terms used in public advisories, further contributing to their inability to respond to the outbreak and take necessary actions. With social distancing being one of the major mechanisms in place to reduce the spread of the virus, people who are blind who uses sighted guide to move around have very high exposure and vulnerability to the virus infection. People who use a wheelchair for mobility are also at risk as their wheelchairs might be exposed as they use their hands to wheel their wheelchairs through the health facilities when accessing health services.
Children, young people, girls and women with disabilities are even more vulnerable to having a mental health issue and health issues during this period of time resulting in accumulated stress. Accumulated stress can further exacerbate existing health conditions and or other mental and health issues in persons with disabilities and family members, carers or support persons. Girls and women with disabilities may be exposed to violent situations. Persons with psychosocial disabilities’ and those with intellectual disabilities’, fear, anxiety and panic may increase due to lack of awareness on COVID-19 response processes. This can cause them to become unwell resulting in further stigmatization and discrimination. Fear, panic and anxiety can contribute to other physical illnesses during this time. The situation of people with disabilities in institutions, psychiatric facilities and prisons is particularly serious, given the high risk of contamination and the lack of external oversight.
PDF urges all levels of government, agencies, health ministries and the private sector throughout the Pacific to work with Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs) to ensure that persons with disabilities in particular women, children and young persons with disabilities aren’t left behind in the COVID-19 response.
PDF will continue to work with its members and regional partners to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities and promote a human rights-based approach in COVID-19 response.
For more information please do not hesitate to contact Soloveni Vitoso on email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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