Fighting Unfair Battles

Words by Bettina Baysic

Art by Krischelle Cadao

While we’re stuck at home creating tiktoks, binge watching our favorite Netflix series, and scrolling aimlessly through social media, we forget those who require more assistance to go about their daily lives. The pandemic is terrifying for many of us, but people with a disability have more reason to worry than most.

Over a billion people and 46% of the world’s people who are older than 60, live with some form of disability, of whom 2–4% experience significant difficulties in functioning. Disability is an umbrella term that covers impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. People with a disability often have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to serious illnesses or death, if they contract the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). They may also be more at risk if they have disability workers entering their homes as these people may have been unknowingly  infected already.

Nursing homes have reported the most number of deaths in Scotland and in the U.S. where more than a fifth of the country’s COVID-19 cases come from. Most are crowded and understaffed, and just one COVID-positive patient in a nursing home produces carnage. Dozens of families receive a heart wrenching call as their elderly loved ones succumb helplessly to the disease, illustrating a system unequipped to handle the onslaught of the growing crisis.

 

It doesn’t get any easier when COVID-19 is harder to detect in these patients due to a lack of research, especially if they are unable to communicate their symptoms. Many hospitals are not equipped to handle their specific cases and their dependence on physical contact with the environment or carers, as well as respiratory conditions caused by certain disabilities. 

 

World Health Organization (WHO) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres* said the pandemic is revealing the extent to which people are marginalized and is intensifying the inequalities that people with disabilities already face, such as poverty and higher rates of violence, neglect, and abuse. Research from the U.K. Office for National Statistics shows two-thirds of the disabled participants said coronavirus-related concerns were affecting their wellbeing, from loneliness and problems at work to worsening mental health.

 

Stay-at-home orders worsen the disproportionate impact on disabled people’s lives. In the Philippines, where they continue to enforce one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in South-east Asia, supermarkets and convenience stores imposed protocols to limit the number of people allowed inside the establishments at a time. At the start of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), they set specific periods for when wet markets could operate and restricted residents from traveling to other cities. 

 

For the 1.44 million Filipinos or 1.57 percent who have a disability, their caretakers must endure said limitations and long lines. Many health workers also reported that they are being evicted from homes or have been refused rides on buses as people within their proximity worry about  contracting the virus. However, if no one is available to help those with disabilities, the difficulty and fear disabled people will experience when buying medication and groceries by themselves would only increase.. 

 

On the bright side, several cities have addressed accessibility issues. Taguig City Public Information Office said 68,000 senior citizens and 12,000 Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) will be receiving Php 4,000. Valenzuela City gave priority to dialysis patients in the local government’s mass testing to help them continue their treatment in health centers. The program, “Swab Test on Wheels”, created by the LGU of Pasay City also gave priority to senior citizens and PWD, especially for locals that cannot travel to the nearest health stations. Additionally, The Department of Health (DOH) implemented a PWDs program that promotes the highest standards of health and wellness by fostering a multi-sectoral approach towards a disability-inclusive health agenda.

 

While there are reasons to celebrate, many obstacles still hinder the community. UNICEF Representative to the Philippines, Lotta Sylwander, addressed that general practitioners know little about disabilities since the healthcare system in the Philippines is very specialized. Additionally, necessary services often cost a considerable amount.

 

Public transport was halted for weeks which forced  hundreds of frontline health workers to walk for hours since few employers provided shuttle vans for transportation. Adding insult to injury, reinstating public transportation has been at a snail’s pace even after the Enhanced Community Quarantine was slightly lifted. 

 

Italy, by comparison, introduced a European Disability Forum board member in a task force to design phase two of its COVID-19 response. Denmark’s government provided funds for several disabled people organizations to support those who are isolated at this time. Japan and Nordic countries already boast the most benefits regarding disability-inclusive healthcare with various incapacity benefits. These activities need to be implemented in all countries and should have started from the beginning of the pandemic. 

Accessibility is the keyword. 

According to Diana Hiscock, a global disability advisor at HelpAge International, any data collected on the coronavirus should be by age, gender, and disability. This will help identify the barriers people with disabilities experience when accessing support. 

We recommend Local Government Units (LGUs) to share this data with the U.N., International Disability Alliance and the International Disability and Development Consortium to contribute to building more inclusive responses in the future. It is also critical that regular services are not disturbed in any way. This consists of visits from support staff for personal care, speech therapy sessions, and physiotherapy instruction. This aid must be delivered in a way that protects both staff members and their clients.

 

Inclusion is a right, not a privilege for the select few. The disabled community is the most affected and neglected during the pandemic because they require human contact for basic physiological tasks. This makes them more susceptible to the disease and they lack resources that cater to them—but that can change. When so much of the struggle against the virus depends on isolation, it doesn’t mean these battles must be fought alone. 

JULY 10, 2020

JULY 10, 2020