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Disabled persons struggle to get vaccinated

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LAST Tuesday, Grace Mutuko, a 54-year-old from Mambo suburb in Gweru, visited Mtapa Clinic, pushing herself on a wheelchair.

STEPHEN CHADENGA

On arrival at the council-run health facility, Mutuko met hordes of people who were in a queue to be vaccinated for Covid-19. Although she joined the queue in an orderly manner, hoardes of people arrived, plunging the clinic into chaos. That day, Mutuko left Mtapa Clinic without being vaccinated.

“Even efforts to negotiate that l be given preference to be vaccinated given my condition hit a brick wall. Nobody seemed to care,” a distraught Mutuko narrated her ordeal to The NewsHawks.

Mutuko’s nightmarish experience is not unique to her alone as thousands of disabled people across the country face similar hurdles in their quest to access Covid-19 vaccination centres.

When the government announced the Covid-19 vaccination rollout programme early this year, a non-governmental organisation that primarily targets women and girls, the Institute for Community Development in Zimbabwe Trust (ICOD Zim) issued a statement calling for the need to prioritise disabled persons in the vaccination programme.

ICOD Zim expressed concern that disabled women had not been consulted in the Covid-19 vaccination strategy and rollout plan as a priority population.

“(We are) perturbed by the missing prioritisation in the Covid-19 vaccination plan and rollout that was released by the ministry of Health and Child Care which seemingly ‘excludes’ persons with disabilities from priority groups,” ICOD Zim said in a statement.

From the experiences of people like Mutoko, it seems the letter fell on deaf ears.

Young Voices Disability Zimbabwean Trust director Nyasha Mahwende said the government’s response to Covid-19 is not disability inclusive.

She said the vaccination of the disabled l and disability support workers was not treated as a prime concern.

“Given such as a grim situation, it is prudent for government to establish separate vaccination centres for people with disabilities,” she said.

“In any case, most of these vaccination centres are not friendly to people with disabilities. Our right to health as people with disabilities is being violated.”

National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe president Anna Shirin told The NewsHawks that there was a need to take Covid-19 vaccination services to the “doorstep of PWDs (people living with disabilities)”.

Shiri said as stop-gap measure PWDs in the city of Bulawayo had engaged the ministry of Health and a date was set to vaccinate the disabled next Tuesday.

“There is need for mobile clinics so that vaccination reaches PWDs where they stay,” Shiri said.

“In Bulawayo, for example, there was an arrangement with the Health ministry that PWDs would be vaccinated on July 20 at Jairos Jiri Centre.”

She however said the government should ensure that all vaccination centres are disability user friendly so as to cater for the disabled.

“There should be universal designs at vaccination centres that are user friendly. The centres should be free and accessible to cater for diverse disabilities.

“It’s unfortunate that at public health institutions there are no services for sign language, braille and the health personnel even lack knowledge of providing information in disability accessible formats.”

Shiri said the situation was worse in rural areas where clinics are often located too far to be easily accessed by the disabled.

“Given that PWDs are even more vulnerable to contracting Covid-19, there is need for an inclusive approach when dealing with the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.

She bemoaned the lack of inclusion of the disabled in Covid-19 taskforces at all levels of society from the top national echelons to the grassroots.

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