COVID-19 sees people with disabilities ignored

Satish. K, 55, and a resident of Vijayanagar, is categorised with 40% disability. He is due for two hospital visits — one for his back surgery, and another for the COVID-19 vaccination. But ask him why he has put off the two visits, and he replies, “The surgery is going to cost me a lot. Even if I go to a government hospital, there is no one I have to look after me during and after the surgery. I haven’t taken the vaccine because I’ve been hearing of some people suffering from fever, vomiting or pain after being vaccinated. I have no caretaker, and I don’t want to take a chance if something happens.”

Apart from the cloud of logistic issues overshadowing the present vaccination drive, persons with disabilities have been almost invisible even when the drive was in full swing. Those with mobility issues, intellectual disabilities, and others who simply do not have the support system to get themselves vaccinated have largely remained out of the ambit.

The few who were able to take advantage of the vaccine rollout, have not had it easy. Ravi Ganesan, 54, got his first dose after some chaos. A resident of Benniganahalli, Mr. Ganesan’s disability is categorised as 75% and above. “It is difficult for me to stand in a queue. So, I opted for a paid vaccine and got an appointment at a hospital on Cunningham Road as there were no appointments available anywhere near my house. After travelling all the way, they told us there was no stock. I then heard that it was available in Jayanagar, so I travelled again and got the first dose,” he said.

Getting his second dose is proving to be an even bigger circus. “For the second dose, I registered in a private hospital in Indiranagar. To avoid my last experience, I tried calling them beforehand, but got no response. When I finally got through, they said they didn’t have the vaccines. When it comes to primary health centres, there is no information on what the facilities are for persons with disabilities, and there are no phone numbers we can call. The department of disabilities does not offer even basic help on who we should approach. Some NGOs are helping but at a systematic level, what is being done,” he asked.

Those who contract COVID-19 are also unhappy with the way their disability is ignored. Arpuda Rajan, national executive committee member, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD)-Karnataka Chapter, cited the example of a 32-year-old man from Yadgir who is COVID-19 positive and has been quarantined in a government facility. “But, being a disabled person, he is not receiving any suitable medical care, such as wheelchair availability, accessible toilet, escort or an attendant,” said Mr. Rajan.

He pointed out that not everyone was comfortable using technology; in some cases, they are incapable of doing so, and long queues for walk-in may not be feasible either. “There is absolutely no focus on the issue. In some cases, people are unable to go. In some others, they have inhibitions,” he said.

In another case, the patient is mentally challenged. “The family has only elderly people at home. The patient was admitted to hospital and the family did not hear from the hospital for a while and they were anxious. They were worried about violent behaviour, about the patient not eating well, etc. Finally, they heard he’s doing well,” said a person known to the family.

The NPRD has already written to the Prime Minister seeking free COVID-19 vaccinations at the doorstep to all disabled persons and their caregivers, jobs under MNREGA, and establishing toll-free accessible helplines for PWDs in all States, among others. But until these issues are taken up and addressed in a systematic manner, persons with disabilities will continue to remain under the radar.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 3:26:06 AM |

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