PRESS RELEASE: National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) in conjunction with Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) have called for a press conference to shade light on the plight and the situation of persons with disabilities in Uganda during the COVID 19 response.
Currently, 16.5 percent of the total population of Uganda are Persons with Disabilities according to Uganda Functional Difficulties Survey report, 2016.
This vulnerable section of the population may continue to suffer disproportionately in the COVID-19 response if they are not prioritized in the response efforts. As a result of the pandemic, government came up with standard operating procedures to combat and mitigated risks associated with COVID-19.
We would like to commend efforts led by His Excellency Y.K Museveni by issuing directives aimed at curtailing the pandemic and the achievements so far registered. As Persons with Disabilities in Uganda, we join the rest of stakeholders in the fight against COVID-19 and we call upon all persons with disabilities in Uganda to abide by the guidelines in the move to minimize the risks associated with COVID-19.
On Friday, 17th April 2020, we received disturbing news of Mr. Oloya Willis, a deaf person and a resident of Mugila West village, Adilang sub-county, Agago District. Oloya was shot by the security personnel during the curfew at around 9:30PM on 16/04/2020 because they were not able to understand what he was communicating and no due diligence was given to him.
At worst he would have been detained and seek services of sign language interpreter to explain to him the directives and guidelines and the dangers of COVID 19. There are many more of Oloyas in the communities who are deaf and have not received the COVID-19 messages.
It is now crystal clear that Oloya has got physical disability on top of him being deaf person. This is not in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) article 11, which calls on state parties in accordance with their obligations under the international law, including humanitarian law and international human rights law to ensure that there are necessary measures in place to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk.
We fear that the situation at hand is likely to escalate for the most vulnerable. Another case at hand is the story of Ian Mark Mukisa a person with mental illness who lives with his parents in Bulindo-Wakiso district that was broadcast by NTV on 9th April 2020.
Mark who was on treatment suffered under the hands of a security personnel who caned him and was later found at the police station by his mother.
Also there is a concern that children with disabilities who are on treatment are finding it hard to reach hospitals for management. This is pronounced especially among spinal bifida and hydrocephalus children.
Besides, we have noted with concern that many press briefs and updates on COVID-19 are being done without the help of the sign language interpreters. Consequently, Persons with Disabilities in Uganda especially those with hearing impairments (deaf, deaf blind and hard of hearing persons) are missing out on the various preventive measures and updates on radios and televisions.
For example, The Ministry of Health briefing on Saturday, 18th April 2020 did not have a sign language interpreter which is discriminatory and against the right to access information. All these have occurred because of lack of participation of leaders of Persons with disabilities and there representative organizations in the COVID 19 response.
The National and District COVID-19 Task Forces lack direct engagement with NUDIPU, an umbrella organization for Persons with Disabilities in Uganda.
Also the current food distribution mechanism is insufficient to allow access to food especially by those with severe disabilities such as these with Cerebral palsy, Deafblind and the mentally impaired.
There is no representative of persons with disabilities on the corona food distribution teams to guide and provide expert opinion on disability issues.
Therefore lack of systematic disability inclusion in COVID-19 response will greatly undermine the effective eradication and control of the virus in Uganda.
We therefore call for;
1. Government to consider representation of persons with disabilities on National and district COVID-19 task forces to give guidance and expert opinion on issues pertaining to disability and persons with disabilities
2. Government to consult with NUDIPU and DPOs on issues pertaining to persons with disabilities in COVID-19 response.
3. All presidential and ministry briefings on COVID-19 to have sign language interpreters. This is in line with the UCC broadcasting guidelines.
4. Government to ensure all security briefing and reports take into consideration disability issues and perspectives.
5. Government to put in places necessary measures to protect persons with disabilities such as those with hearing impairments, mentally ill who are in situations of risk especially during the curfew times.
6. Government to ensure that justice is given to Mr. Oloya Willis and Mr. Ian Mark Mukisa and appropriate remedies given to them including meeting medical costs.
7. Government to set up clear guidelines through Ministry of Health to ensure that persons with disabilities on treatment such as those with epilepsy, mental illness, children with spinal bifida and hydrocephalous access regular and immediate treatment unfettered.
8. Government to develop standard operating procedure/ circular on how to manage and respond to disability concerns under COVID-19 response.
9. Government to ensure that food distribution reaches the vulnerable persons with disabilities by collaborating with leaders of persons with disabilities in the community.