For some, Covid-19 is the last nail in the coffin
The Covid-19 pandemic is a threat to all members of society. However, attitudinal, environmental, and institutional barriers that are reproduced in the Covid-19 response pushes people with disability to be at a higher risk of exposure and facing serious complications.
This ultimately results in them being affected disproportionately. In a country like Bangladesh, where the health system is already broken, a crisis like Covid-19 is practically a nail in the coffin for people with disabilities, as there is no strategic plan for providing them with resources and information regarding preventive measures to stay safe.
While the government has shared general guidelines to prevent contracting the virus, it is not always easily applicable to people with disability. For example: “As someone who has mobility challenges, I have to rely on another person. How do I maintain social distancing?”
On the same note of dependency, he shared that with increasing loss of employment, most people with disabilities who are dependent on another are facing further negligence and abandonment. Brac’s community empowerment program tracked violence against women through its Polli Shomaj (women-led institutions) network across 54 districts in Bangladesh in March 2020.
The report highlighted that nearly 90% (680) of the incidents were committed against women and girls: Intimate partner violence against women who have disabilities has increased significantly because of Covid-19-related household stress. She shared that with economic insecurity on the rise and limited possibilities to escape abusive partners, women with disabilities are in the most dreadful conditions.
The government has taken initiatives to support the people with disability by providing them with financial, food, and other assistance. While the Ministry of Social Welfare (MoSW) has allocated Tk1cr to be distributed among people with disabilities in all districts, targeting and listing excludes all people with disability in the country.
One recipient reported: “Collecting the government-declared incentive fund from the upazila office is extremely challenging, and the amount of money received in support is much lower than the amount we have to spend on multiple travels to retrieve it.”
The MoSW’s website provides a list of the total number of persons with disability in Bangladesh, which is 1,801,211. While this is 1.09 % of the total population, the Disability in Bangladesh: Prevalence and Pattern, a document by BBS which highlights the study by ESCAP in 2012, estimated it to be 9%.
Previous studies have also found that disability estimates based on survey data are, in general, higher than those based on census data across many different countries. In addition to that, numerous DPOs have also shared that due to poor access to testing facilities and the lengthy process of obtaining the Shoborna Nagorik Number, a massive number of people with disabilities do not have it.
Hence, they are grossly excluded from receiving the support provided by both the government and non- government organizations (NGOs). There is a clear lack of transparency, weak governance, and absence of monitoring. This leads to insufficient and flawed registration as well as actual people with disability not getting the card and related benefits. People with disabilities are in danger both inside and outside their homes.
To ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind during this Covid-19 response and recovery, an integrated approach is mandatory. The specific and immediate steps to prevent them from further harm may consist of the following.
• Initiate a vigorous detection process to help include the people with disabilities that have been previously excluded
• Form a web-based disability information database to ensure the overall development of the people with disabilities list and minimize duplication
• There is limited availability of disaggregated data and information to determine the impact of Covid-19 on people with disabilities. Therefore, utilizing the full data from accurate targeting and conducting a nationwide survey can be a breakthrough, which will aid in designing a comprehensive response plan
• Inclusion and sensitization in response plan
• Ensure meaningful consultation with the active participation of people with disabilities and their representative organizations in all stages of the Covid-19 response and recovery
• Sensitize authorities on how the pandemic, as well as the response plans, may disproportionately affect people with disabilities, to ensure they are not systematically deprioritized in response to the crisis
• Persons with disabilities must receive information about infection mitigating tips, public restriction plans, and the services offered, in a diversity of accessible formats
• Government communication strategies should include qualified sign language interpretation for televised announcements, websites that are accessible to people with various disabilities, and telephone-based services that have text capabilities for people who have a hearing impairment
• Establish a mechanism to distribute aid for people with disability from government and NGOs that are easily accessible and prevents corruption
• All programs that provide aid to the marginalized groups must be disability-inclusive, eg distribution of cash may not be a good option for many people with disabilities as they may not be able to find items they need due to accessibility barriers
Right to health care for all
• Ensure that if infected with Covid-19, people with disabilities do not face additional barriers in seeking health care nor experience discrimination and negligence by health care personnel Even under normal circumstances, people with disabilities are less likely to have access to health care, education, employment, and to participate in the community.
We have a system that is bluntly discriminatory with life-stunting conditions blighting all lives of people with disability. The global crisis of Covid-19 has further exposed the extent of exclusion they face and highlighted that work on disability inclusion is imperative.
In order to address the risks, we must engage people with disabilities in the Covid-19 response, and adapt plans to address their needs. The truth is, we are not in this together. But we must stand by each other’s sides because no one should be left behind.
Nimmi Hamid is Policy Analyst, Advocacy for Social Change, Brac.