Weekly round up - 4 May 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 situation is getting worse very fast. The death toll and infection rates are increasing every day. There have been cases reported in 63 out of 64 districts. The reality now is that COVID-19 has spread everywhere in the country. Despite this, there is concern that government figures are not the true picture and that the reality could still be even worse. Over 200 garment factories have re-opened after the initial shut down, bringing thousands of workers back to Dhaka. We have seen huge gatherings everywhere. In the villages there is hardly any social distance happening – the markets and roads are full. As one member of a disabled person’s organisations who runs a rickshaw taxi and has two disabled people at home, said to us: “if I don’t run my rickshaw how can I keep my family?” People with marginalised incomes, dependent on fragile livelihoods are in an impossible bind between physical health and economic ruin. As of Sunday, 5,500 members of organisations of disability activists from different locations received emergency support packages including food, cash and hygiene materials. Last week the Country Director participated in a live Facebook programme focused on COVID-19 and young people with disabilities. We are also active in a forum pushing to change the language of COVID-19 communications. Lots of health and prevention messages are not accessible or relevant to rural areas and disable people. For example, government adverts feature running water, hand basins and soap – this is not relevant in rural areas where water is scare. Need more tailored communications for people in rural areas and different forms of impairments.
The situation has not changed much over the last week though huge questions marks still linger. There are still no deaths reported which for a country of 16 million, seems hard to believe. Staff from the garment factories that have been closed, were promised 40% of their salary but nothing has been paid yet. There is growing discontent. The government has passed an emergency law allowing them unlimited power to curb dissenting voices and free press if they choose, though this has not yet been implemented. There is a growing feeling of uncertainty despite the low numbers of casualties. We have had the green light from our key partners to reallocate funding to support COVID-19 assistance to women and girls with disabilities. We are preparing basic, mid-term and long term relief food and emergency hygiene packages to distribute.
COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and like other locations, there is a sense that the true picture is worryingly unknown. The official COVID-19 statistics now stand at 592 cases and 41 deaths. The government does not have the capacity to carry out community testing, and testing is not available outside the capital of Khartoum. Cases are increasing in Darfur where camps and conflict areas will hinder the humanitarian response to reach the most marginalised. Sudan is in its third week of curfew with plans to extend this until June. Ministry of Finance has promised a cash transfer to 80% of the population for the next three months, but the instalments are small, and prices have spiked, so many people are going to struggle. The stigma around COVID-19 is growing, and people are continuing to avoid disclosing symptoms. The ADD country team have submitted to key donors alternative plans to tackle COVID-19 – awaiting approval on these so that we can divert funds. We are working with other key INGOs to lobby for inclusive disability responses. We are in daily contact with DPO leaders via WhatsApp and social media, working with INGOs on inclusive information, livelihood kit distribution, identification of the most marginalised and the poorest of persons with disabilities.
In Tanzania, the official cases have gone up to 480 with 16 deaths. There is a lot of concern that these figures are not truly representative of the situation. We hear from our networks that many more people are displaying symptoms than are being officially reported. We are in deep discussion with many INGOs to coordinate responses and are pushing at all times for disability-inclusive responses. We are part of a Country Directors Forum, that brings together the leaders of all NGOs representing the Tanzania context. We have developed a position paper and are working closely with the government to implement this. We are also part of the Tanzanian Education Network working with the government team to coordinate emergency and interim responses. A big challenge in the Tanzanian context is that a lot of our disability activist partners do now have smartphones, so it’s hard to keep in face to face contact. Also, many disabled people are leaving the cities to join family in rural areas. We have some concerns about how we will continue to reach the most marginalised.
Cases are increasing slowly in Uganda, but the response feels to be the most in check. The government moved into lockdown very quickly and has possibly benefitted from previous crisis set up from Ebola. INGOs in Uganda are sharing information all of the time and working collaboratively. Last week we hosted our first online meeting with all our partners. It took a long time to set everyone up on Zoom, but it is worth it to be able to have virtual face to face contact. We now have the means to have regular contact. Disability activists have been lobbying their district taskforces to make sure that disabled people are included in local emergency responses such as food relief. In Buikwe district we saw 2 tonnes of posho (cornmeal) collected for persons with disabilities.