How are PWDs coping with lockdown?

Thursday April 9 2020

No option. A person with disability  walks to

No option. A person with disability walks to town on Hoima Road after President Museveni banned public transport last month. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 

By Esther Oluka

The ongoing lockdown is tough on everybody, including persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Like everyone else, PWDs have had to stop using private and public means of transport, observe curfews, social distancing, among other directives, that are part of the measures government issued to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Others include handwashing, wearing a facemask, avoiding touching the eyes, mouth and nose.
However, a number of PWDs are facing several challenges in applying these directives.

For instance, Ms Charlie Mujuni, who lost her leg in 2018 after a car accident, says a few days ago, she developed a toothache that needed her to seek immediate dental services.

But since she is supposed to seek permission from the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) to travel, Ms Mujuni had to consider possible ways of accessing her authorisation to use a car.

Dentist saves the day
“I did not know what to do. Even though I have crutches for support, I could not use them to move to the RDC’s office. The distance between my home and his office is long. I would not last very long on the road,” she says.
As Ms Mujuni thought of other possible options to access the RDC, the dentist called and proposed picking her up from home.

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Dentists are part of the (medical) essential persons and groups exempted from the restriction of road movements. And they have specific stickers for their vehicles.
“The dentist saved me from that planned visit to the RDC’s office. She picked me up and drove to her dental clinic where I received treatment. Afterwards, she drove me back home,” Ms Mujuni says.

“Imagine someone without such a privilege, what would they have done in my position?” she asks.
However, Ms Mujuni says she still has to get permission from the RDC because she has upcoming reviews with the dentist who might not be able to pick and drop her home again.

Ms Elizabeth Mwesigwa, a para-badminton champion, shares similar frustration.
Ms Mwesigwa says although government issued the directive that people should stay home, she wonders how she will fend for herself and four younger siblings.
“I am stuck at home, yet I am the breadwinner,” she says.

Before the lockdown last month, Ms Mwesigwa says she was able to earn a living from her para-badminton sports activities.
Games were suspended after the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

Despite government’s launch of the country’s relief food distribution campaign last Saturday, Ms Mwesigwa doubts whether PWDs will benefit from it. A total of 1.5 million vulnerable people in Kampala and Wakiso districts are expected to receive the aid and other essential items as a way of mitigating the hash impact of Covid-19.

“I have not received any of that food yet I am a vulnerable and needy person,” Ms Mwesigwa says.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), vulnerability is the degree to which a population, individual or organisation is unable to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of disasters.

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These clusters include children, elderly people, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, among others.
Ms Mwesigwa also notes that the associations and organisations representing the needs of PWDs are not helping them enough to cope with the crisis.

“They are silent yet they should be doing more to help us at this crucial time,” she says.
On how she is coping during the lockdown, Ms Mwesigwa says she is relying on her savings which are diminishing very quickly.

Besides the complaints arising from difficulty in accessing respective RDCs, getting aid, including food and healthcare, some sections of PWDs such as the visually-impaired and those with hearing challenges are having trouble accessing information on Covid-19.

Response
Mr Edson Ngirabakunzi, the chief executive officer of the National Union of Persons with Disabilities of Uganda (NUDIPU), an NGO that brings together PWDs, says the organisation is aware of the complaints.

“We have written a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) raising these issues. We want them to engage us so that we can find a way of working together,” Mr Ngirabakunzi says, adding: “We are hoping for an inclusive response to the crisis.”

Mr Ambrose Murangira, the disability inclusion adviser at Light for the World, a global disability and development organisation, says they are developing accessible communication products on Covid-19, which are developed by different PWD team members to address some of the challenges they face.

“We have developed four-sign language clips that include basic information about the virus. We have talked about the myths around the pandemic, the different measures taken by government to curb infection,” Mr Murangira says.

“Our facilitators are giving online updates on measures being taken by government on daily basis,” he adds.
Mr Murangira argues that information and health services to fight Covid-19 must be accessible for everyone, regardless of where they live, how much they earn, and whether or not they have a disability.

Solution

In order to deal with some unavoidable health issues, during his address to the nation on March 30, President Museveni stated that permission can be sought from RDCs to use private transport to take people to hospital.

Additionally, government vehicles that do not belong to Uganda People’s Defence Forces, Police, Prisons and Uganda Wildlife Authority will be deployed at the district health offices, including the divisions of Kampala with their drivers to help in emergencies. The vehicles would be under the command of the district medical officer.

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