Disabled should be given priority for vaccines

The prevalence of coronavirus has created a crisis in education, healthcare, employment and all sectors. And the suffering and challenges faced by disabled persons is more than others. That is why special measures should be taken for them and allocations must be made for the implementation of various plans to this end, urged concerned persons.

They said that the disabled must also be provided with stimulus packages. They should also be given priority regarding coronavirus vaccines.

These priorities were highlighted by speakers at a virtual roundtable held on Monday. The roundtable, ‘Disabled persons and emergency assistance: COVID-19 perspective’, was jointly organised by four non-government organisations and Prothom Alo.

The four NGOs, working with disabled persons’ rights, are -- Light for the World, ADD International, CBM International and Centre for Disability in Development (CDD). The international alliance Inclusive Future assisted in organising the roundtable with support from UK Aid.

Attending the meeting as honourable guest, head of the parliamentary standing committee for the social welfare ministry Rashed Khan Menon said coronavirus is an emergency situation and so there must be separate initiatives, allocations and stimulus for disabled persons. And the assistance should be tailored to the needs in accordance to the different disabilities.

The former social welfare minister Rashed Khan Menon went on to say, various initiatives are being taken at a government and non-government level for the protection of disabled persons during the coronavirus times. Coordination among these initiatives needs to be stepped up. And when the vaccine arrives in the country, along with elderly people, the disabled should also be given priority. And there must be facilities so that persons with serious disabilities can avail physiotherapy and other services at home.

Clockwise: Rashed Khan Menon, AHM Niman Khan, Shafiqul Islam and Murali Padmanabhan

AHM Noman Khan, executive director of the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD), said there is no data on how many disabled persons have contracted coronavirus so far.

He said that it would be possible to draw up the statistics in this regard by gathering information for the relevant organisations all over the country. Such information is extremely important.

He further said, for the past 10 months, the disabled people had been facing all sorts of challenges in the areas of education, health, rehabilitation and more. Risks were higher than ever before. Education had come to an almost complete halt for disabled children. A large percentage of them would drop out and it wouldn’t be possible to bring them back to school.

He also stressed the need to pay attention to the mental health of the disabled during coronavirus times.

Thought must be given to how disabled persons can be provided with services or employment opportunities through online education, digital knowledge and so on
Murali Padmanabhan, disability inclusion advisor of Light for the World

Country director of ADD International Shafiqul Islam said, hospitals and healthcare centres must have special booths or facilities to rapidly ensure the treatment of disabled persons who are affected by coronavirus.

He urged that the national action plan to implement the rights of the disabled be reviewed under the coronavirus circumstances and that special allocations be made accordingly.

Certain opportunities had also arisen during coronavirus times, said Murali Padmanabhan, disability inclusion advisor of Light for the World. He said thought must be given to how disabled persons can be provided with services or employment opportunities through online education, digital knowledge and so on.

CBM International’s country director Muhammad Mushfiqul Wara said that short, mid and long term planning must be taken up, keeping in mind the demands, needs and rights of the disabled during emergency situations.

He said that care must be taken that those marginalised among the disabled, that is, women, children and transgender persons, are not sidestepped in the plans. And, importantly, the coordination among ministries must be stepped up as well as among non-government and development agencies.

In the opening presentation of the roundtable, Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum said, various laws and policies have provisions for special initiatives for disabled persons in emergency circumstances. The challenge is to ensure implementation of these laws and policies.

Asim Dio, advocacy and communications manager of CBM International and Nusrat Irene, national disability inclusion officer of Light for the World, presented the keynote at the meeting.

The keynote recommended that information concerning disabled persons be updated from the local level up to the central level in the government. It also recommended, alongside relief programmes, disabled persons and organisations be included in post-coronavirus rehabilitation and that the upazila, district and national level committees in disabled persons’ rights be activated.

Asaduzzaman Chowdhury, leader of the Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) in Rajshahi and Iti Akhter, leader of DPO in Faridpur, highlighted various problems, including the problem of accessibility when it came to availing relief at a local level. They recommended that the relief be delivered to the homes. Iti Akhter called upon the government to create sustainable employment.

Arafat Sultana was the interpreter in sign language for the roundtable. The meeting was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.