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PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES IN LIBERIA ARE GRADUALLY BEING VANDALIZED BY COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to unearth some uncomfortable truths about our country Liberia, 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 needs 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 16% of Liberia’s population with disabilities to fend for themselves.

The situation of PwDs in Liberia 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) 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. 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.

However, the above measures have largely not taken into consideration the situation and needs of PwDs. Organisations of Persons with Disabilities were not engaged or consulted regarding government’s COVID-19 emergency response measures. In addition, 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, many of PwDs 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 are unable to access such services.

Finally, 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, DPOs, 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.

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