Supporting people with disabilities during COVID-19

April 18, 2020 - 07:39

The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic affects different groups of people differently. Many people have lost their jobs and need to stay home.

By Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Resident Representative in Viet Nam

The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic affects different groups of people differently. Many people have lost their jobs and need to stay home. Our UNDP colleague Huong, who leads our work on disability and is visually impaired herself, has brought to our attention the ways in which it is more challenging for persons with disabilities.

Xuan and Duong, for example, are both visually impaired and used to work as massage therapists, as many persons with visual impairment do. As most businesses closed, they both lost their job and have been staying at home for over a month. With no income, they have been relying on the support provided by their family and friends to sustain themselves and their son Kien who is also visually impaired. Sadly, Xuan, Duong and Kien are far from being the only persons with disabilities to be so dramatically affected by the current COVID-19 situation.

On Vietnam Day of Persons with Disabilities, let us remember that persons with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. According to the 2016 National Survey on Persons with Disabilities conducted in 2016, 7 per cent of the population in Viet Nam has a disability. The number of persons with disabilities was estimated to be around 6.2 million people and has increased due to the ageing population and traffic accidents. The same survey indicated that households with persons with disabilities are twice as likely to be poor as other households. In fact, almost 18 per cent of persons with disabilities live in multidimensional poor households in Viet Nam.

 Many people with disabilities often feel quite vulnerable and sometimes experience multiple health problems. This is why many of them had already restricted their movements as early as January of this year, for fear of getting infected. Persons with disabilities may not have easy and prompt access to updated information about the virus and how to protect themselves. Many require ongoing medical and rehabilitation services that they can no longer access. Those who have serious forms of disabilities rely on support from carers and other persons who may no longer be able to help.

Many persons with disabilities have lost their job or seen their income reduce dramatically over the last few weeks. Social enterprises often employ and provide services for persons with disabilities. However, a recent study has shown that a large proportion of these social enterprises may suspend operations and go bankrupt if the Covid-19 scenario lasts until the autumn. This would have a substantial impact on persons with disabilities. Finally, 80 per cent of persons with disabilities live in rural areas and may face even greater difficulties. Many of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities have been exacerbated during COVID-19.

Access to information is crucial during this time to avoid infection. Like everybody else, persons with disabilities need to understand how to protect themselves, which latest advice has been issued and what latest measures have been put in place by the authorities. The Ministry of Health has deployed great efforts to disseminate information to citizens on how to protect themselves from COVID-19, how to wash their hands, etc. and UNDP has supported these efforts by helping to translate important messages into sign language. As the situation changes daily, persons with disabilities need to be able to understand news updates. One of the main communication channels is of course television. It has been very encouraging to see VTV1 expand sign language interpretation during their main news bulletins and once again, UNDP has been pleased to support this initiative.

In order to promote a disability-inclusive response to COVID-19, one of the first steps is to better understand the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities. In consultation with the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, UNDP is conducting a rapid assessment through an online survey of persons with disabilities. The results of this baseline assessment will provide useful data to inform possible and targeted support for persons with disabilities, including increased access to social assistance. When the time comes, persons with disabilities will also benefit from more targeted support to resume income-generating activities. Additionally, their employers, such as social enterprises, could be prioritized for immediate support.

The Government of Viet Nam should be praised for its unprecedented handling of the COVID-19 situation. The rate of infections continues to remain relatively low, and the country has turned the corner where at this time, there are more people who have been treated successfully than those who are patients. UNDP is committed  to continuing its support together with the UN family, to the Government and to the country during this important time. In particular, we need to make sure that we look after the most vulnerable members of the community, including persons with disabilities. UNDP remains committed to “Leaving No One Behind” in the fight against COVID-19 and support a disability-inclusive response.VNS