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COVID-19: Ghana Federation of Disabled Organizations worried vaccination was not inclusive

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Three per cent of Ghana’s total population according to the World Health Organization have one form of disability. This represents some one million of the of thirty million people. This means they suffer some deformity  either in the leg, arm, or they have hearing or visual impairment among others.

The various groupings of persons living with disability have been merged to form what is known as the Ghana Federation of Disabled Organizations which consists of the Ghana Blind Union, Mental Health Society, Ghana National Association of the Deaf, Ghana Association of Persons with Albinism, Ghana Stammering Association, Inclusion Ghana, Sharecare Ghana, Burnt Survivors Association, and the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled.

The World Health Organization in a policy brief dated 19th April 2021 said “persons with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, both directly because of infection, and indirectly because of restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus.”

The adverse impact of vaccine war and the inability of poor countries like Ghana to acquire enough for their citizens is reinforcing the already stark inequality between the able and the disabled. This current phenomenon however, is in sharp contrast with the article 39 of Act 715 of the Persons with Disability Act, 2006 which  states that; “a person or institution which organises a national, regional or district activity, shall as far as practicable ensure that facilities are made available for the participation in the activity by persons with disability.”

Barriers in accessing information.

Mr. Christopher Agbegah, project officer of the country’s federation of disabled organizations revealed members of the federation have been excluded from community engagement aimed at creating awareness about the novel coronavirus.

The impact is the absence of a robust plan to cater for persons with disabilities in the vaccination.

Vaccine roll out and lack of engagement.

There had been 93,898 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 785 deaths in Ghana from 3rd January 2020 to 11:09am CEST of 1st June 2021, according to the World Health Organization.

Under the COVAX Scheme, Ghana has so far received some 950,000 vaccines. They arrived on 24th February and 7th May 2021 respectively. The Indian Government has donated some 50,000 doses of vaccines all made up of AstraZeneca. The Government of Ghana purchased some 2, 000 doses while MTN Africa donated 165,000 and 149,850 doses to the country so far.

The doses were administered on front-line health workers, security personnel, over 60s, and those with pre-existing health conditions. But though some of the members of the federation of persons living with disabilities have underlining health conditions, there existed no plans to cater for them in both phases of the inoculations.

“We are a special group of people and as such, we had expected the government to prioritize some of our members during the first phase of the vaccination exercise but that didn’t happen” Mr. Agbegah insisted.

He said with hope of being inoculated, members of the Share-care Ghana group who are living with auto-immune and neurological conditions have had to suspend their medications prior to the inoculations.

And like the number of days it takes to get an information using Ghana’s Right to Information Law, members of this association halted administering their life-sustaining medications two weeks prior to the day of vaccination.

“If there were engagements, some amount of vaccines would have been reserved for them” but that was not the case.

Second phase campaign.

The second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination exercise commenced on Wednesday, 19th May 2021 for individuals who were due for their second jabs. As of 31st May, a total of 1,228,216 vaccine doses had been administered according to the W.H.O. COVID-19 dashboard.

Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye  at a press briefing on 27th May 2021, said “more than 82 per cent of their target for the second phase have been inoculated.”

“As at Tuesday, we had done about 82 percent of the target, and so we will continue and at the end of the day we will take stock of how many we have done, but we will move away from the camping mode and reduce the number of sites and then the rest remaining will be given their vaccines.” he said.

World Health Organisation on vaccination for persons with disability.

This neglect is contrary to what the World Health Organisation has recommended for persons with disability. The organisation said this group of people need special care due to barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures; for example, hand basins, sinks or water pumps for hand washing may be physically inaccessible, or a person may have physical difficulty rubbing their hands together thoroughly when washing; difficulty enacting physical distancing; this is especially relevant for people who require physical assistance and/or are living in residential institutions which may have the added challenges of staff shortages and infection control.

The organisation also said this could be fatal as Persons with disabilities may be at greater risk of severe disease and death if they become infected with COVID-19 due to: health conditions that underline their disability; and barriers to accessing appropriate and timely health care, which arise from difficulty in communicating symptoms; inaccessibility of transportation, health facilities and tele-health services; gaps in support and assistant services; and discriminatory triage procedures.

Communication gap.

Members of the Ghana Blind Union according to the federation are battling with the lack of educational resources including  braille version of written information on the pandemic.

“We had to appeal to the Ministry of Information and other relevant agencies before a speech interpreter was brought to all coronavirus briefings held by the Ministry” Mr. Agbegah maintained.

Way forward.

Mr. Agbegah says Ghana needs to pursue the path of inclusiveness in order to protect its citizens during this pandemic. He said steps are being taken to further engage government to prevent the continuous inequality.

Spurred in part by the tragedy that the pandemic had brought, Mr. Agbegah says it has opened up their members to accept the use of ICT as tool for communication and doing business . Aside from that, he said, it has limited the amount of time their members have had to travel to attend meeting and the difficulty accessing public commercial vehicles known in the Ghanaian local parlance as trotro.

This story is supported by Journalists for Human Rights under the Mobilizing Media to Fighting COVID-19 project.


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