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03.05.2020 Opinion

Ghanaians With Disabilities Cannot Be An Afterthought In COVID-19 Response

By Auberon Jeleel Odoom
Ghanaians With Disabilities Cannot Be An Afterthought In COVID-19 Response
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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to unearth some uncomfortable truths about our country Ghana, as the inequalities that too often live below the surface are bubbling up for all to see. The widely marginalisation and exclusion of persons with disabilities (PwDs) in COVID-19 emergency response need to be immediately addressed.

Persons with disabilities are among the most endangered by COVID-19, as their conditions or chronic illnesses may leave them at greater physical risk of suffering the virus' devastating effects. As pertains with general access to healthcare, PwDs are less likely to receive appropriate care and treatment for COVID-19. This situation potentially undermines ongoing efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ and leaves many of the estimated 3% of Ghana’s population with disabilities, [1] to fend for themselves.

The situation of PwDs in Ghana in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic goes against the country’s obligations, having signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) [2] in 2012. In Article 11, the Convention requires State parties to take ‘all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk’, including conflict, humanitarian emergencies, and natural hazard events. [3] This makes it imperative on the part of the government to engage the disability community in any COVID-19 emergency response and recovery actions to help mitigate the crisis.

With a specific focus on the situation of PwDs in light of COVID-19, interview sessions with Mawunyo - a person with down syndrome, Ama - a mother with a child with cerebral palsy and Inclusion Ghana-the peak network organisation advocating for the rights and full inclusion of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Ghana, established that PwDs are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Mawunyo shared her difficulty in implementing basic hygiene measures, particularly hand-washing. She has difficulty accessing hand basins, sinks or water pumps as well as difficulty rubbing her hands together thoroughly. Moreover, Mawunyo neither had information regarding social distancing or other COVID-19 protocols. Ama, a mother with a child with cerebral palsy indicated how she struggled to feed her children during the lock down, as well as difficulty in accessing healthcare and physiotherapy services for her son Thomas due to the shift in focus and health resources to the COVID-19 fight. Other issues detailed by Thomas’ mother are barriers to accessing public health information on COVID-19 in accessible formats such as easy-read versions, the difficulty practicing social distancing due to Thomas’ support needs, thus putting him at risk of infection.

Mawunyo’s experience and that of the family of Ama reflect the broader issues or situation of persons with disabilities regarding COVID-19 response and action in Ghana. With regards to emergency response and recovery actions, measures put in place by the government of Ghana include partial lock-downs in the Accra-Tema-Kasoa and Kumasi Metropolitan areas; closure of borders by land, sea and air to passenger traffic; prohibition of mass gatherings; closure of schools; increased public education on the need for improved hygiene and social distancing; distribution of food; free electricity and water supply; and instituting a Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP) focused on protecting against job losses, protecting livelihoods, and financially supporting small businesses.

However, the above measures have largely not taken into consideration the situation and needs of PwDs such as Mawunyo and Thomas. In an interview with a Programme Officer at Inclusion Ghana, he noted that Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPWDs) were not engaged or consulted regarding government’s COVID-19 emergency response measures. In addition, he indicated that the absence of disaggregated data on PwDs has resulted in their marginalisation in coronavirus response measures such as distribution of food and other relief items. Moreover, public education efforts on the coronavirus through television, radio and information vans, although extensive, has largely not been made available in accessible formats such as braille, and easy-reads to enable PwDs access information on COVID-19 protocols. As a result, the vulnerability situation of PwDs such as Mawunyo and that of Thomas and her family is exacerbated in the face of COVID-19.

Again because of the partial lockdown, PwDs requiring individual and community support and other health services were unable to access such services. In the case of Thomas, the enforcement of the partial lockdown meant that he could not access weekly physiotherapy services. Finally, PwDs are less likely to gain financial support for small businesses through the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP) due to the limited opportunities to gain skills training to enable them set up businesses to support independent living.

The limitations regarding government’s emergency response to COVID-19, with particular emphasis on the marginalisation of PwDs calls for the adoption of an inclusive approach geared towards mainstreaming. Such an approach should engage PwDs, OPWDs, and duty bearers particularly in the area of health and social protection to map out the specific needs of PwDs and their families to minimize their risk of contracting the virus, and provide support to enable them maintain individual and household livelihood. Overall, an inclusive approach is fundamental towards ‘flatting the curve’ and subsequently rising above the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Writer is Auberon Jeleel Odoom, a graduate student at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. Telephone: +233302243291 / +233208151523; Email: [email protected]


[1] Ghana Statistical Service (2014). 2010 population and housing census report Ghana Statistical Service.

[2] Adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly A/RES/61/106 on 13 December 2006 and entered into force on 3 May 2008.

[3] Art 11 CRPD.

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