The everyday challenges faced by disabled people in developing countries are deadlier than ever as they face the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic reached their countries, disabled people in India and East Africa already faced isolation and fear. But everyday challenges – like discrimination, limited healthcare, lack of wheelchairs, few opportunities for work –now have deadlier consequences than ever before.

Our usual services and programmes across India and Africa create opportunities for disabled people to be included in their communities. But the virus has forced us to pause some of our direct services. What does this mean for the disabled people we support?

Our first step is to ask our beneficiaries directly. By understanding their challenges, we can provide the strongest support with the greatest impact. How are their lives affected right now by COVID-19? What are their fears for its longer term impact?

Loss of income

In many developing countries, disabled people are less able to work. They and their families are reliant on income from informal jobs. They run small local shops, repair bicycles, tend chickens, or sell produce at markets. With communities in lockdown, it is not possible for them to work. Their shops remain shut. They have no customers. They cannot sell their produce where markets are closed.

They have lost their only source of income.

For those who overcame disability discrimination and found formal work before the pandemic, everything is on hold. Financial support from their government is unlikely; they simply do not have the funding to create furlough schemes like those in the UK and USA. Our beneficiaries who fought so hard for their jobs are now in fear of losing them.

They will have to start the process of looking for work as a disabled person once again. It’s a difficult, and huge, step back.

Limited access to food

During lockdown, many disabled people face stark choices. Do they go outside and risk infection, or run out of food?

According to the Washington Post, “[l]ockdowns in at least 33 of Africa’s 54 countries have blocked farmers from getting food to markets and threatened deliveries of food assistance to rural populations. Many informal markets where millions buy their food are shut.”

Even under normal circumstances, wheelchair users face accessibility challenges that make it hard to travel to the market or shops. During lockdown, when food is scarce, prices soar, markets are closed and livelihoods have been lost, our beneficiaries fear that they will be at the back of the line for agencies who are providing food.

Lack of vital healthcare

Another tough decision is whether to buy food, or vital healthcare products?

The restriction of movement makes it is hard to pick up essential products for managing health. Items like catheters and sanitary care are vital for many wheelchair users to avoid bladder and bowel issues. Without them, they are at risk of potentially fatal infections. They will be in pain or deep discomfort. They can lose their sense of dignity.

These items can be difficult to source in ordinary times, especially for anyone living miles from a hospital. Right now, the decision to visit a hospital or health centre means the risk of infection. And for anyone in lockdown, it is not possible to leave home without risking police sanctions.

Spread of infection

Social distancing is just not possible for the families we support, many of whom live in crowded communities.

Wheelchair users will not find it possible to keep distance from the caregivers who they rely upon. Parents of disabled children who have weaker respiratory systems are worried about passing on infection.

Many of our beneficiaries have told us that they feel confused about the pandemic. Advice across communities has not been clear and there is very little specific guidance for disabled people and their families. They feel uncertain about how to protect themselves against the spread of infection.

How Motivation can help

We are finding ways to offer training and support remotely as much as we can. And we’re are working to ensure that disabled people’s needs are not forgotten in this crisis. Our teams are in touch with beneficiaries and partners by phone and text messages to share advice on:

  • access to partners and agencies for provision of healthcare items
  • how to sanitise wheelchairs and assistive devices
  • care for disabled children who are more vulnerable
  • ways to stay mobile and exercise during lockdown
  • importance of being isolated from the wider community wherever possible
  • good techniques for washing hands where resources are scarce

As we adjust our normal ways of working, we need your help. We know these are difficult times for everyone, but if you can, please help us to reach out to disabled people with the advice and support they need to survive.

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