Covid-19 response initiatives should be inclusive

By Michelle Chifamba

A prominent rights activist has urged the government to make its Covid-19 response plan inclusive to cater for people living with disabilities in Zimbabwe. 

Samantha Sibanda, founder of Signs of Hope Trust, said people living with disabilities were among the most vulnerable groups in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus that has been characterised by economic lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

Sibanda, whose organisation champions the rights and wellbeing of people living with disabilities, said a viable disaster response plan must leave no one behind.

“In terms of disaster response, we need to include people with disabilities as well as their families,” she said.

“We realised that in any humanitarian crisis the rights of the people with disabilities are usually ignored or forgotten.” 

At the commencement of national lockdowns to slow down the spread of Covid-19, the government last year said it was setting aside $600 million to cushion vulnerable groups against the effects of a prolonged economic shutdown. 

The disbursement of the funds, however, has been marred by controversy with associations representing informal traders complaining that their members did not receive any money from government. 

A sizeable number of people living with disabilities eke a living from the informal business sector.

“The government’s Covid-19 relief funds disbursements need to prioritise people from vulnerable communities and households with persons living with disabilities,” Sibanda said.

‘Parents, who have children with disabilities are not able to look for menial jobs as they are taking care of their children, increasing the burden of unpaid care work.” 

Sibanda said her organisation had identified a number of challenges brought about by the outbreak of Covid-19 that include lack of access to information, poor access to reliable transport, education and health care and period-poverty as well as an increased burden on unpaid care-work for caregivers.

Lack of sustainable food sources was also identified as a major cause for concern for  people living with disabilities. 

“Access to information has been the biggest challenge affecting people with disabilities in this critical time of Covid-19,” Sibanda added.

“In most cases people with disabilities are sidelined and for me I feel that if someone has information, they can make decisions, but it is different for disabled people because they are the last ones to get the information.” 

According to Sibanda, Signs of Hope Trust has been working towards an inclusive approach in efforts to eliminate barriers that affect people with disabilities from accessing their basic rights. 

“Most of the relevant authorities do not realise that disability is not a homogenous thing,” she said.

“People are disabled in various ways that include vision impairment, being deaf or dumb, just to mention a few. 

“The people have special needs and we found out that in most cases the government cannot meet some of those needs.”

Signs of Hope Trust has been making visible campaigns on social media, on radio and television stations to plug the information gap in the Covid-19 era.

 The organisation has since produced a policy document that analysed and interrogated the government’s statutory instruments on Covid-19 response. 

It noted that Covid-19 in Zimbabwe has negatively impacted on the lives of people with disabilities due to attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers. 

Sibanda said Signs of Hope Trust made recommendations on how best the government can provide for needs of the disabled community. 

“The barriers for persons with disabilities in accessing critical information and health services have been amplified, ” reads part of the policy document. 

Sibanda said although there have been efforts aimed at promoting the rights of the disabled, there remained a vacuum in addressing such challenges as a result of poor representation for people with disabilities in decision making bodies.

“Although the global pandemic has affected almost everyone in the world, affecting donor support, locally there is need for inclusion of the voice of persons with disabilities,” she added.

“The task force on Covid-19 response should include persons with disabilities as their representatives so that their plight can be equally represented. “

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