The Covid-19 pandemic came with a one size fits all disruption on lives globally introducing caveats to the mundane and daily activities. For people living with disabilities (PWD’s) the pandemic has multiplied their challenges raising vulnerability to their existing conditions and Covid-19.
Disability has been described by the CDC as any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restriction) and or as the WHO define it in three dimensions: 1) impairment in a person’s body structure or function, or mental functioning, 2) activity limitation such as difficulty seeing, hearing, walking or problem solving and 3) participation restriction in normal daily activities such as working, engaging in social and recreational activities.
There are over 800 million globally who fit into this description and according to Dr. Josephine Ojiambo of the Peter Ojiambo Foundation (POF) resources normally dedicated to PWD’s have been diverted into Covid-19 leaving a huge portion of this community exposed to the pandemics wrath. Living generally marginalized lives, access to information, access to their routine medical and testing services have been affected and for some people frequent hand washing and or access to handwashing stations is not possible.
In this regard POF has amplified its efforts to ensure the interests of PWD’s remain top and that their needs catered for. Working in Kenya and Uganda, POF has initiated and collaborated on projects that have helped bring relief to PWD’s. Through the Feed A Warrior program, POF has reached out to 15 families in 13 villages in Kenya and Uganda to offer support to sickle cell patients. While sickle cell is an invisible disability, it leads to deterioration of hip bones and strokes both which manifest as physical disabilities.
Feed A Warrior Project Head Ashraf Ssebandeke says given nutrition is key in managing sickle cell, they have launched a kitchen garden program that provides inputs, and knowhow for these families to grow and improve the qualities of their kitchen gardens. Besides growing healthy gardens, the foundation offers nutritional advice and how best to prepare food for the patients and this has helped significantly reduce the need for most of the patients to have blood transfusions.
Further with Covid lockdown restrictions in place, movement in Uganda was curbed and through our foundation, we highlighted the plight of the patients to be given permission to travel for medical attention. This however was not enough as some of the facilities were 60 KM away from the patients and we have managed to bring a facility closer to our catchment area that is a walking distance for some of the patients.
Ashiraf is a sickle cell warrior who has lived above his experience of pain and disability to empower other warriors. Together with the POF he launched the East African sickle cell association in 2019 from the Public Health Club at the School of Public Health in Kenyatta University.
Across the border, the National Council for Persons with Disability has disbursed funds to PWDs during the pandemic to cushion them against the economic effects of the pandemic and on the occasion of the International day for disabilities 2020, the National fund for the disabled of Kenya will distribute face masks to PWDs countrywide.
To complement the government’s efforts, the Rotary Club of Nairobi is also working on high impact projects that target PWD’s. Among them is the construction of 2 ablution blocks at Jamhuri Primary School Nairobi for able bodied and students with disabilities. Speaking in Nairobi, The Rotary Club of Nairobi (RCN) Ritesh Barot noted Covid has taken attention from the plight of PWD’s and there is need to redirect attention to this community. Out of their commitment to support PWD’s, RCN started the Sunshine Rally and annual program to visit schools and take the students to Jamhuri Park for an annual fun day while also addressing their other pressing needs. So successful has been the program that other Rotary Clubs nationally have taken it up.
Indeed the interventions by RCN have taken a holistic look to address medical, physical and mental needs of PWD’s and during the pandemic period their efforts have been focused on child care, economic development, education and literacy, disease prevention and individual awareness initiatives said Barot
As we celebrate is International day for disabilities on December 3rd, the celebrations provide an ideal platform to advocate for improving the status of PWDs. Peter Ojiambo Foundation is working with the Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC)and AMREF on raising nationwide awareness and sensitization campaigns on the challenges of PWDs during and after Covid-19.
In August 2020, the HBCC and AMREF facilitated Peter Ojiambo Foundation to undertake a survey on PWDS and disability during COVID-19 in Kenya. The study was to focus on AMREFs ten target program areas nationally with findings and recommendations from this study report used to sharpen the programs of the partners represented under the HBCC.
Further, the Peter Ojiambo Foundation and its associates will host a co-creation workshop in December 2020 to develop the content of messages to put into the national media on the plight, needs and solutions for PWDs during COVID-19. These messages will go out on radio, TV and social media to empower the general public, selected service providers, School Heads and teachers, Employers, policy makers and legislators on how best to cater for the needs of PWDs during COVID19 and beyond. The POF working with AMREF and the NBCC will launch training on PWDs and COVID targeted at communities in 10 Kenyan counties.