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Why Kenya Should Prioritize Persons with Disabilities in the COVID-19 Roll Out Plan

As Kenya begins to vaccinate key members of the population against the coronavirus disease, the government should consider including persons with disabilities as part of those targeted.

Covid 19 - person being wheeled on the wheel chair  | © University of Pretoria

Covid-19 (University of Pretoria)

Covid 19 - person being wheeled on the wheel chair  | © University of Pretoria Covid-19 (University of Pretoria)

The government’s current vaccination plan only covers 30 percent of the population based on current resources, but says once more doses and funds become available, it will expand the target.

The country received its first consignment of 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on 1st March, as part of an initial allocation to Kenya of 3.56 million doses.

Healthcare workers in 47 counties are among those who will get the jab first. Frontline workers, including security personnel and teachers, are also on the priority list. But the list does not specifically include persons  with disabilities, as has been done in other regions across the world.

Already, regions including South Australia are prioritizing high-risk people in their population among them persons with disabilities.But it is of grave importance to prioritize persons  with disabilities.

According to the International Disability Alliance, persons  with disabilities face increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to existing health conditions, inequities in underlying health factors and contact with support service providers.

Additionally, many persons with disabilities cannot observe social distancing because they require personal assistance or guide to carry out their daily activities or rely on physical contact to explore and navigate their environment. The organization also argues that persons with disabilities are exposed because they do not have access to timely and understandable information on how to protect themselves against COVID-19 in accessible formats. 

For some persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities or persons with autism, observing physical distancing or extended use of masks or face coverage and other hygienic requirements are not feasible. This is particularly the case for persons with disabilities who are living in congregate settings where infection rates are very high, such as refugee camps and nursing facilities, as well as psychiatric institutions.

Higher Risk of Death

The organization also wants persons with disabilities prioritized in vaccination programmes because they are at higher risk of developing critical conditions or losing their lives. “Others may not access timely and equal medical attention due to lack of adequate information about symptoms and primary steps in case of exposure to infection, inaccessible health systems, inaccessible transportation, lack of required financial resources or lack of adequate personal assistance or support,” the organization says in a case study.

The organization also says that when reaching a critical stage, persons with disabilities are very likely to be neglected due to formal discriminatory triage protocols or informal negligence by health care teams based on prejudice of their life quality and value. 

Finally, the organization states that observing physical distancing disproportionately impedes persons with disabilities access to livelihoods, independent living and health care and rehabilitation. “It is clear that a global vaccination roll-out is being developed to ensure that vaccination against COVID19 will be distributed equitably. No person, no country should be left behind.”

 Author: Margaret Njuguna

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