Organizations advocating for persons with disabilities in Rwanda have called for an inclusive approach in disseminating information on COVID-19 so as to increase social inclusion and awareness in the fight against the pandemic.
The call was made this month during KT Radio talk show Ubyumve ute, held under the theme: Amplifying the need for Protection and Safety for Girls and Women with Disabilities During COVID- 19 Pandemic.
During the one-hour show, the activists acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected all categories of people globally, but to a greater extent persons with disabilities who lack access to information on COVID-19 due to their varying levels of disability.
This, coupled with COVID-19 lockdown has put persons with disability at a high risk of catching the virus and led to proneness to abuse due to limitations that came with the pandemic restrictions according to Anisie Byukusenge, an official at UNABU- Rwandan Organization of Women with Disabilities (WWD),
UNABU is a local organization that aims to promote gender equality and removal of barriers that prevent WWDs from participating in the country’s development.
For Byukusenge the lack of information on COVID-19 prevention has played a major role in this. For example a 2020 research done on 229 women in 12 districts showed many cannot easily access to sources of information on Covid-19 especially radio and phones.
“This is because of a long list of disabilities that each has, some cannot hear, or read the sign posts and language used in passing on Covid-19 information,” Byukusenge said.
Marcel Nkurayija, Health and Counseling Officer at the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) said that there is need for a research on cases of abuse of disabled persons during COVID-19 and dissemination of enabling information for the disabled and other community members to know how to deal with cases of disability under the pandemic.
“There has not been any research to show the level of abuse during covid19- but as persons in charge of disabled persons we know that there were some who were limited by lack of information on lockdown measures,” Nkurayija said.
In support of this idea, Bonny Mukombozi- a health programs official at Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) Rwanda which deals with social inclusion programs, said that there is need to collect this data on effects of covidn19 on disabled persons to know the level of abuse (on disabled persons) at the village, sector level so that Rwanda can analyze the information and take action.
“This research should also be holistic in a way that it looks at other challenges that the disabled persons are facing in life during COVID19 including access to information, mobility as part of COVID-19 economic recovery,” Mukombozi said.
Mukombozi also said there is a need to talk, report cases of abuse on disabled persons so that justice is served as a way of preventing more cases of the nature in future.
Besides access to information on COVID-19 prevention, officials also said there is an urgent need to have persons with disability vaccinated among other vulnerable persons as a way of ensuring safety of such groups.
Jean de Dieu Hakizimana, an official of Rwanda Biomedical Center, said that a small portion of disabled persons was vaccinated in the first round of the national COVID-19 vaccination program which kicked off in March.
“We plan have over 300,000 persons with disability vaccinated soon. We will use mobile vaccination vans as a way of being flexible to reach persons who are limited by their disabilities,” Hakizimana said.
Hakizimana stated that none of the disabled persons will be left behind since beneficiaries will be accessed using available means of transport and infrastructure and will be working with existing health services structure at local levels to ensure all beneficiaries are informed, prepared, educated, and enlisted.