Including people with disabilities in the fight against COVID-19
Under the blazing sun and with the help of a crutch, Ella Delphine (32) walks through the Ngaragba neighbourhood on the outskirts of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). The young woman has been hired by the NGO Humanity & Inclusion (HI) as an awareness-raising agent on COVID-19. Her target audience are fellow people living with disabilities in the 7th arrondissement of Bangui. People with physical and mental disabilities are among those often forgotten when it comes to the fight against COVID-19. CAR is one of the countries least prepared for the pandemic. As of 14 September 2021, the country confirmed 11,340 cases, including 100 deaths. Some 125,910 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I like going to people with disabilities like myself, to talk to them about the coronavirus. Where I live, we are usually forgotten during information sessions. Some can't get to the places where activities take place because of their limited mobility. Humanity & Inclusion has allowed me to get to them and help them to protect themselves from the virus," Ella says proudly.
Feeling the affection of the community
To access and participate in most COVID-19 awareness raising activities, apart from radio messages, one usually has to move to a specific place and sometimes even make one’s way to see what is being displayed or told. For people like Bienvenu (27), not being able to participate in such activities is a source of great frustration, because he feels excluded. "I lost the use of my legs in a traffic accident. I get around on a tricycle, which makes it difficult to access all sorts of activities in the neighbourhood," says the young man. "I felt marginalized, but thanks to the NGO’s activities, Ella has given me hope. I know that we disabled people are not forgotten," he says, sitting on his tricycle.
Ten organizations of people with disabilities have received support from the NGO HI to raise awareness of COVID-19 among their peers. They have received training in information techniques and equipment such as a picture box, visibility waistcoats and rain jackets to protect themselves. The image box was filmed in sign language and recorded on a digital tablet to inform deaf-mute people. The same picture box was performed by a theatre group and the sound recorded in a studio for informing people with visual impairments.
HI has been able to reach remote areas in Bangui and other places in the Ombella M'Poko, Mbomou and Ouaka Prefectures. Through the awareness-raising sessions, people with disabilities, who have been carrying out activities individually, formed an association to work collectively and achieve more impact on advocacy issues related to their inclusion. Launched in January 2021 with the support of the Crisis and Support Centre (CDCS), this project has enabled HI to inform 30,000 people with disabilities on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across the capital Bangui. In 2020, the Humanitarian Fund for CAR targeted specific activities that benefited 53,000 people with disabilities.
Challenges to overcome
Disability inclusion is not yet systematic in policy and programming in CAR, but progress is being made, particularly thanks to the Working Group on Accountability to Affected People. Through weekly meetings with the National Organization of People with Disabilities (ONAPHA), the various associations, including the Association of People with Disabilities living with HIV/AIDS, to which Ella and Bienvenu belong, meet on a weekly basis. During these meetings, they take stock of their programmes and share difficulties encountered, in search of possible solutions for better inclusion. The HI project is one of the solutions to the different problems faced by people with disabilities, but there are still many aspects related to their inclusion that need to be overcome.