LNFOD Statement on The Scourge of COVID-19 in Lesotho
19 March, 2020
On 18 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced the state of emergency as this outbreak claims nearly 9,000 lives around the globe. While this outbreak of Corona Virus Disease of 2019, COVID-19 which has been declared as a pandemic since it threaten the well-being of people around the world, persons with disabilities are not an exception. In fact persons with disabilities have a higher risk than a general population when it comes to the infection and effects of the pandemic.
Persons with disabilities are less likely to access information on how to deal with the virus; how to prevent new infections, the symptoms and how to react when already infected due to inaccessible information, education and communication materials about the pandemic. A good number of persons with disabilities especially those with deafness and visual disabilities depend mainly on social media for information about the disease. However, there is a lot of misinformation on the pandemic making it hard to know which piece of information to trust.
Most of persons with visual disabilities and those with physical disabilities particularly the hemiplegics, depend mainly on touching objects such as rails and other hard surfaces for their mobility. The virus can survive such a time on the hard surfaces so people are advised to minimize touching the surfaces as a means of managing the contraction of the virus. Furthermore, people should do without touching other people’s hands as one of the top precautionary measures to control the spread of this fatal disease. While this seem to be difficult for Basotho due to the fact that shaking hands has become part of their culture when greeting. To Basotho shaking a hand is a signal of peace, while to our people who are Deaf-blind, touching each other’s hands is the only means of communicating.
Moreover, persons with disabilities are often caught in a vicious cycle of poverty. Coping with the spread of the pandemic needs some financial resources which leaves persons with disabilities exposed exacerbating disparities between them and those without disabilities. There is more need for protective items such as Masks and hand gloves for persons with disabilities than those without disabilities but they can afford them. They have an increased need for hand sanitizers which are unavailable and not affordable for majority of persons with disabilities in the country.
Therefore there is a need for the Lesotho government to setup a COVID-19 response team which should have as persons with disabilities represented since it seems this a socioeconomic crises. Persons with disabilities and disability people’ organisations (DPOs) have invaluable knowledge and expertise about how to meaningfully include disability issues in the management of any emergency that affects nation negatively. There is a need to adapt the current information education and communication materials into accessible formats to allow everybody to gain knowledge on equitable basis with others. These materials should be brailed, and even converted into audios. While we are happy that television news have sign language interpreters, there should be captioning done to leave no one behind on the important information on the pandemic. A barrier free quarantine facilities is essential to allow everybody to be accommodated.
We appeal to government through the ministries of finance, health and social development to avail hand sanitizers on subsidized prices or free of charge for persons with disabilities who are not working since we have established that they have an increased need for these materials in order to be able to cope with this dangerous disease.
We also appeal to our people to practice hygiene, to commit to social distancing, and avoid hugging and handshakes. For reliable updates on this outbreak visit world health organisation website. www.who.int