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Covid-19: Rights of PWDs under the spotlight

But, their plight cannot be compared to that of people with disabilities (PWDs). This group of people has, for a long time faced challenges in accessing justice during the pandemic.


COVID-19 pandemic waves are coming and going, but their economic, social and political effects remain etched in people’s lives.

Worldwide, nations are reeling under effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Women, youths and girls are among the worst affected.

But, their plight cannot be compared to that of people with disabilities (PWDs). This group of people has, for a long time faced challenges in accessing justice during the pandemic.

Of late, civil society groups have made inroads in helping people with disabilities access justice.

About 15% of the world’s population has a form of disability and Africa accounts for approximately 40% of the statistic.

The global estimate of people with mobility issues has been rising, mainly due to population ageing and chronic illnesses that come with such conditions.

Despite a surge in the numbers, few countries have been systematically collecting disability-disaggregated data to understand and quantify adverse impacts of Covid-19 on people with disabilities, Zimbabwe included.

This lack of data has prevented disability rights pressure groups from effectively championing the cause of people with disabilities.

Among the advocates, Sightsavers, an international organization has been working with organisations representing people with disabilities in promoting access to Covid-19 vaccines.

This is part of efforts to ramp access to health care during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Part of the intervention involves lobbying for disaggregation of data collected from vaccination programmes and sorting it based on age, gender and disability.

As part of efforts to promote access to information the organisation says data collected from vaccination programs should be shared in accessible formats.

This is in line with Section 22 (3) (c) of the Zimbabwean constitution which says: “… all state institutions and agencies should encourage use and development of communication forms suitable for people with disabilities.”

This is critical to Sightsavers.

Peter Bare, senior programmes coordinator at Sightsavers says aggregating vaccination data according to disability will help people with disabilities access health.

“Without disaggregation, can we also know how many PWDs have been reached out to?” he asks.

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted Zimbabwe’s health system which had already been strained due to underfunding during austerity economic measures implemented under 2018’s Transitional Stabilization Programme (TSP), according to the Zimbabwe Peace Project.

In addition, the Zimbabwe Service Availability and Readiness Assessment Report of 2015 showed the country’s health delivery system had inadequate “medical products and vaccines” among others before the pandemic.

Access to health as a right has continually been elusive –particularly for people with disabilities.

This has seen other organisations lobbying for Zimbabwe to ratify international statutes which will help people with disabilities access their rights during the pandemics.

Local organisations have joined in the struggle.

The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) is working with Sightsavers lobbying for Zimbabwean government to ratify the African Disability Protocol (ADP), an Africanized version of United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Ishmael Zhou, chairperson of NASCOH says: “At least the process has moved two or three levels up the line towards ratification; This is good news for our constituency as people with disabilities.”

ADP was adopted by the African Union (AU) in 2018 to supplement provisions of the African Charter signed by Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Heads of State in 1981. Zimbabwe is yet to ratify the charter.

The protocol addresses disability issues from an African perspective covering minority rights, particularly, for people with albinism.

While United Nation’s framework, UNCPRD has been ratified, disability organisations say it gives a generalised view of disability issues while overlooking the African perspective.

Lawyers with Disabilities Association Zimbabwe Trust (LDAZ) chairperson, Bekithemba Mlaudzi explained why Zimbabwe needs to ratify the ADP.

“Issues of albinism, harmful practices and traditional beliefs are not captured in the convention; Yet, the ADP provides for lived African experiences,” he said.

A number of African countries including Zimbabwe are still playing catch-up in promoting the rights of people with albinism.

East African societies among others have been known to stereotype people with albinism.

In some instances, people with albinism have been murdered for ritual purposes.

In other countries such as Malawi at least 20 people with albinism have been killed for their body parts since November 2014.

The number could be higher, as several more people with albinism have disappeared during that period.

In Tanzania, at least 75 people have been killed since 2000, according to Amnesty International.

Therefore, Mlaudzi said overlooking harmful practices and albinism could still put people with disabilities under threat of harm.

In June 2020, Zimbabwe signed the National Disability Policy a ground-breaking triumph in promoting access to rights by people with disabilities.

Nevertheless, Mlaudzi said the policy had no binding effect hence need for an Act.

“A policy only informs government departments and other duty bearers on how they should handle disability issues.

“It also directs on how they should promote and protect rights of persons with disabilities,” Mlaudzi said.

He says people with disabilities cannot report violation of rights based on the policy.

“Without ratification of the ADP, it will not be possible for persons with disabilities to approach courts and report right violations in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The policy is not law,” he added.

Institute of Economics Peace (IEP) ambassador, Patience Rusare says inclusion of people with disabilities is a contributor to positive peace hence should be considered.

Positive peace is defined as attitudes, institutions and structures that sustain tranquil societies, according to IEP.

Ensuring everyone’s rights are accepted is an important pointer to positive peace.

Rusare said: “Human rights perspectives on disability entails moving away from viewing people with disabilities as objects, to viewing them as holders of rights,” Rusare said.

Therefore, inclusion is important so people with disabilities have access to rights during the pandemic and beyond.

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