Weekly round up - 20 April 2020
Each week we will be sharing a round-up of the picture from our country teams as they mobilise to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Our work during this time has four goals:
1. Life Saving Information. Ensuring disabled people receive accessible and accurate information on how to protect themselves and their families.
2. Social Support. Identifying people with disabilities most at risk during lockdowns and ensuring necessary supplies – like food, water, medicine – are safely delivered. Utilising remote peer-to-peer support mechanics to reach those most isolated.
3. Access To Medical Support. Ensuring disabled people have equal access to COVID-19 testing and treatment services.
4. Long Term Protection. Supporting powerholders to create inclusive alternative livelihood options for disabled people and implement emergency social protection schemes.
The emerging picture.
Across our country programmes of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, we see some emerging themes.
There are common concerns that in-country reporting channels are not adequately capturing current COVID-19 case numbers. We are also seeing COVID-19 related stigma rising – rumours about what causes it and attitudes towards those displaying symptoms. In some contexts, this is causing people not to come forward and seek treatment. We are also noticing that disabled people in our country programmes are finding it difficult to access reliable and accurate information about COVID-19, and there is a proliferation of misinformation being shared widely through social media channels. Our Country programme offices remain closed, and our staff are working from home to deliver our emergency COVID-19 response measures. Since the outbreak, our teams are focused on:
- Utilising available communication methods to keep in contact with disability activists and their communities. Primarily through WhatsApp and social media, we receive updates on the picture on the ground – what disabled people need and required responses.
- Working with our funders to redesign our programme activities so that we can redistribute funds to COVID-19 response work. We are very grateful to our partners who have been incredibly supportive during this time.
- Strengthening inclusive disability responses. We continue to be concerned that government and INGO response measures do not include disabled people. As we collectively rise to respond to COVID-19, now is the time to live the principles of ‘Leave No-one Behind’.
In Bangladesh, we are beginning to see case numbers hit exponential growth rates. COVID-19 stigma is growing, and rumours are starting about who might be infected. People suspected of dying from COVID-19 are being excluded from burials. We are staying in regular contact with our disability activist partners across 11 districts. We are hearing that the message of social isolation is not reaching rural areas. COVID-19 is being seen as an urban disease. People are not maintaining social distance in the streets or markets. The population density is so high that social distance is a nightmare, especially in crowded city slums. Many people still need access to information, food and sanitation. Last week we met with the Mental Health National Network to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. They agreed to provide online services and telephone counselling. We will also submit a joint appeal to the Ministry of Health for the psychological fallout of COVID-19 to receive robust consideration and funding. We also met with other NGOs working with disabled people. Together we are submitting a joint appeal to all relevant government ministries to coordinate support for disabled people effectively.
According to government numbers, COVID-19 cases are stabilising, but many people think that the actual figures are increasing. A growing sense of concern is building. Migrants returning from Thailand are being allowed to return home untested, there was a mass military gathering of 3k people recently, and all borders with China remain open. Many workers are not receiving furlough, and so many people are suffering from income loss. Our primary focus has been discussion with funders to redivert funding to provide emergency food and sanitation to disabled people. We have also been sharing our drafted response model with other INGOs to help them implement disability-inclusive responses in their work.
Due to limited healthcare systems and resources in Sudan, people are feeling very concerned about what a full COVID-19 outbreak could mean. False information is swirling on social media. People are starting to stigmatise COVID-19, and we are hearing that people with symptoms are not seeking medical support for fear of community reactions. We are seeing prices for goods rising, which is also causing concern. We are working to get approval from our funders to redirect programme money to pay for emergency food packages for the most vulnerable disabled people. We are also consulting with INGOs to build inclusive response measures. Last week we met with the Health Commissioner to talk about how to support people in need during the curfew. Power cuts and internet problems are a challenge for our staff living in remote areas. We are in daily contact with disability activist leaders on WhatsApp who are identifying the most vulnerable disabled people in their communities. We are receiving daily requests from our partners for support.
The lockdown in Uganda will be in place for at least a further 21 days. Last week we met with Country Directors from other disability organisations to share information. Disability activists have shared with us that the primary source of information for them is coming through ADD and other NGO communication channels. We also met with Country Directors from other INGOs for a World Bank briefing on the economic picture for Uganda. A terrible recession is forecasted. Many disabled people work in the informal sector and have lost their jobs with no savings or safety nets. Last week we organised two radio programmes to share disability-inclusive information on COVID-19. We got government clearance for disability activists to talk on the show. By the end of the programme, we had raised 7 million Ugandan Shillings (£1,500 approx.) to provide food and emergency supplies for disabled people. We are also working on a funding bid to secure social protection for disabled people. We are pushing for the government taskforces co-ordinating district level responses to have disabled people on their panels. In the taskforces that do, we see district relief distributed inclusively.
The COVID-19 response so far in Tanzania has been reactive rather than proactive. Robust screening and tracing of cases are not happening. We have been working on getting a COVID-19 contingency plan in place. We have set up WhatsApp groups with our activist partners to share information. We are in touch with the Prime Minister's office to help support their response measures to be disability-inclusive. One of our key programmatic focuses in Tanzania is Inclusive education. With schools in lockdown, education programmes are looking to see what can be adapted for a digital environment. So far, these plans have not been made inclusive and will be an access issue for many, especially in communities without good internet coverage or access to technology.