By: Guest Contributors Shubham Airi* and Sarah Ayreen Mir*

Towards mid-2020, disabled persons’ organizations surveyed 312 persons with disabilities in Kenya and Bangladesh to understand the effects of COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread. More than 90% of respondents in Kenya reported their daily lives had been impacted by the virus. They singled out factors such as unavailability of vital necessities, limited transport facilities, restricted movement, social alienation, decreased earnings, and loss of employment. In Bangladesh, all those polled alleged that COVID had changed their lives for the worse.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threatens to be a stumbling block in the international community’s efforts towards delivering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly for the marginalized groups, especially persons with disabilities.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Kenya in early 2020, the government instituted safety precautions and protocols. Since then, people with disabilities across the country have struggled with sticking to the safety protocols and understanding COVID-related information. The blatant disparities in guidance and access to information on COVID-19 are common throughout the country.

Education is an important first step in combatting the spread of COVID-19

In a quickly evolving COVID-19 disaster, as exemplified by the South African and Indian variants, information is vital for the masses to make choices about protecting themselves better. Various disability rights organizations, including the United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), have pinpointed the informational gaps in the virus, mainly the fact that vital information often reaches persons with disabilities last, if at all.

Kenyan COVID-19 taskforces, especially government initiatives, have been slow to act even after disability rights activists raising the alarm about vital information not being conveyed in a disability-friendly format. It has denied persons with disabilities the opportunity to prepare themselves for the several curfews and cessation of movement measures that the Kenyan government has instituted since the pandemic hit the country.

It is laudable that statistics of COVID cases are being disseminated regularly by the government through the Ministry of Health’s daily briefs. However, these briefs only come via print and electronic media—formats that are generally non-accessible for persons with disabilities. While sign language interpretation is generally included on Kenyan TVs, a Kenyan with a disability is still limited in consuming most of the content. Digital and print media information exclusion occasioned by factors such as affordability is still a significant hindrance.

Moreover, televised methods of passing COVID-related information remain inaccessible for people with hearing and visual impairments. The absence of subtitles, transcriptions, and weak efforts to broadcast content and spread informational materials in local languages denies people grappling with various forms of disability their right to information, as enshrined in article 35 of the Kenyan constitution.

Community outreach is essential for combatting the spread of COVID-19

The Protocol to The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa (which Kenya has ratified) repeatedly stresses that African governments must take essential steps to protect people living with disabilities from all forms of abuse outside and within the home. Contrary to this, the implementation of lockdown protocols in Kenya has amplified both domestic abuse and police brutality meted on people with disabilities. Moreover, young girls and women with disabilities in Kenya have grappled with sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse during the several curfews and lockdowns the government has put in place since early 2020.

Perhaps Kenya should borrow a leaf from her peers in Africa. In September 2020, a court in Malawi found the Malawi government’s COVID protocols illegal. The government had failed to consider the interests of the masses, including Malawian’s right to earn a living, access to healthcare, and education.

In the judgment, the court further emphasized that when designing any lockdown measure, the government cannot ignore the impact of its cessation of movement measures on domestic abuse and violence, especially regarding children, women, and people with disabilities.

In conclusion, governments must make it easy for this group to access critical services, such as information and education, social protection, and health through this pandemic. Any international or national response to COVID-19 (and preparation for any future crisis) must be underpinned by the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Sustainable Development Goals and the pledge to ‘leave no part of the society behind.’

 

* SHUBHAM AIRI is a Penultimate Year law student at School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India. He is also the founder of Praxis Education Trust.

* SARAH AYREEN MIR is a Penultimate Year law student at School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India. She has keen interest in Human Rights law, International Law and constitutional law.

 

Photos

“Discussions around COVID testing support” by International Livestock Research Institute is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Low Res Web Only Information and awareness is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Community Health Volunteers and some staff from Trócaire partner MMM in Kenya during briefing before going to the field. Photo : Victoria Nthenge” by Trocaire is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

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