Make coronavirus response disability inclusive: Doctors with Disabilities urge Centre
Doctors with Disabilities- Agents of Change, a pan-India organisation of health professionals with disabilities, has written to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, urging that a disability inclusive response be adopted to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Failing to do so will have serious consequences.
400 people and rising, the coronavirus pandemic is assuming alarming numbers in India. The country is in lockdown mode with PM Narendra Modi repeatedly making appeals to maintain social distancing. One community, however, continues to be excluded from all the advisories given and that is the disabled population.
Warning of an unprecedented pandemic, Doctors with Disabilities, a pan-India group of disabled health professionals, has written a letter to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) urging them to adopt an inclusive response to tackling the pandemic.
Advisories exclude disabled community & disabled medical professionals
The letter says that none of the advisories issued so far cater to either health professionals with disabilities or persons with the specified disabilities mentioned in Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPWD) 2016.
Majority of the information available on MOHFW for COVID-19 is not in accessible format for people with disabilities. None of the MOHFW press briefings are inclusive of sign language interpreters or accessible to deafblind people. The nodal ministry for disability, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) has not a single update on COVID-19 situation on its official website. – Doctors with Disabilities
Apathy by national institutes for different disability types
To make it worse, none of the nine national institutes established for different types of disabilities are leading from the front. The letter points out that both the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities, Dehradun and the National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities, Chennai have any specific guidelines for visually impaired and deaf blind people, when they are most dependent on touch and find social distancing especially challenging.
The letter also cites Mumbai’s Ali Yavar Jung National Institute of Speech and Hearing Disabilities for having no text update on coronavirus or a sign language video. Similar apathy it says has been shown by Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre (ISLRTC), New Delhi which has not produced a single video on this pandemic. “The video of Prime Minister on their homepage is even without signing. This keeps the deaf community in complete darkness about this global pandemic”.
To make things worse, the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, Secunderabad has put up photographs of homeopathy medicine being distributed for coronavirus prevention on its website and social media handle, when this has not been advised by either the MOHFW, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). “No special efforts have been taken by this body to create info in simple language for people with intellectual disabilities”, adds the letter.
Similar apathy is evident on the part of Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya National Institute for Persons with Physical Disabilities (PDUNIPPD), and National Institute for Locomotor Disabilities, Kolkata. “People with spinal cord injury or those depending on caregivers need additional care in times of social distancing. Sadly, Swami Vivekanand National Institute of the Rehabilitation Training and Research, Cuttack has no advisory on this”, says the letter.
With blood donation drives cancelled in the wake of the pandemic, there is a serious shortage of blood affecting people with three haematological disabilities listed under the RPWD Act. “Delhi-NCR requires more than 40,000 units of blood in a year but there are around one lakh thalassemia major patients who need one to three units of blood every month. This has created a serious shortage of blood for these three disabilities”.
Letter urges ministry to utilise National Fund for disabled people
Doctors with Disabilities has asked the DEPwD to direct the nine institutes under its purview to utilise the National Fund created for persons with disabilities under Section 86 to create a massive awareness drive. States should be asked to use state funds in partnership with the disability sector.
Similar outreach is needed for healthcare professionals with disabilities specifically. The letter asks for preferences to be given to those involved in direct patient care.
“The number of healthcare professionals present during procedures should be limited to only those essential for patient care and procedure support”, says the letter which also asks that disability accommodations as per RPWD 2016 be given.
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