HARARE, Zimbabwe 

Even as landlocked southern African country Zimbabwe has begun vaccinating people against the COVID-19, there seems no hope for the disabled population to be attended to anytime soon.

According to an assessment published by the UNESCO Regional Office, the persons with disabilities were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 which also resulted in anxiety and an increase in gender-based violence.

Last month, Zimbabwe received 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated from China.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Mevion Chawota, 29, whose both hands and legs are not working said his community will remain at the periphery, even during the vaccination drive. He complained that nobody came to their rescue during the lockdown.

“When some of us went to the hospital after contracting virus, we were sent straight back to homes. Even visually challenged were told to return home and quarantine there,” he said, adding that even no precautionary measures were adopted to help people like him.

Gift Maodza, 57, and his wife Susan, 58, both visually challenged, loath visitors now even after they recovered from the infection. Sidelined and despised, their own children had kept away from them for the fear of contracting the COVID-19.

“We just heard the government has received the vaccine from China to start vaccinating the people. But we do not know how the vaccine works and be available to people like us,” Gift told Anadolu Agency.

While there are no statistics available about the infections among the 1.4 million disabled population, health activists say the community suffered silently during the pandemic.

Owen Dhliwayo, a Harare-based human rights defender said that disabled people do not figure either in the government or among the list of ordinary people while fighting the virus.

“These (disabled) are simply forgotten, with nothing specifically said about them,” he said.

For visually challenged people like Maodzas, social distancing does not mean anything, as they hardly know, who is around.

Vulnerable population

“The disabled use their bare hands turning the wheelchairs or move on the grounds, at times come in touch with infected spaces. This has put the disabled among the high-risk group,” said Helen Charamba, 37, who lives with a physical impairment. She is a member of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NACCHO) – an organization concerned with the care and rehabilitation of people with disabilities.

Barbra Nyangairi, executive director for Deaf Zimbabwe Trust, said it has become difficult for the deaf to know about the virus. She said the Health Ministry does not know the number of deaf people, who came to the hospital seeking treatment for COVID-19.

“As government saw that COVID-19 was not ending any time soon, there was very little effort to provide education, especially to the deaf. They were not able to access education amid lockdowns,” she said.

The government had arranged radio school lessons for students as part of online learning during the pandemic restrictions. But forget how deaf students will learn.

“Accessing sign language even at home has been hard because people generally have no skills of the language,” added Nyangairi.

Agness Chindimba, director for Deaf Women Included, said life was much harder for the country’s deaf women.

“Many people with disabilities, especially the deaf women depend on vending business, which was affected due to lockdown. That meant no income to buy food and thus meaning compromising with the immune systems against COVID-19,” she said.

According to the UNESCO study, income for persons with disabilities shrunk by 50% from $43 to $13 per month during the COVID-19 period.

According to the US-based Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Zimbabwe has reported 36,223 coronavirus infections with 1,483 deaths. The country has so far administered 25,077 doses of vaccine, mostly to frontline health workers.

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