Living with Disability & COVID-19

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Living with Disability & COVID-19
By Bridget Hathaway and Flavian Kishekwa 30 July 2020

Bridget Hathaway and Flavian Kishekwa are the co-authors of Included and Valued: A Theology of Disability. 

“Am I Worth Saving?”

At the height of the lockdown in the UK as a result of COVID-19, it was easy to complain or feel bored and frustrated. Yet, however difficult it has been for me in the UK, I have been thinking about the continent of Africa and how this virus will affect people there. 

The leading question is “How will they cope with this virus that is so infectious?” Some countries have more resources than others and will be able to mobilise health supplies and put in place strategies, but many countries just do not have the infrastructure to support a fight against an outbreak. In countries such as Burundi, housing is basic and poor nutrition is widespread, leading to compromised immunity against the virus. These communities are likely to suffer badly, and the virus could still yet claim many lives. 

What about people living with disability? How will they fare in the current outbreak? 

Why am I separating this group out? My colleague Flavian and I have worked together for many years in the field of disability in the community; over time we have seen a positive change of attitude towards people with disabilities, with a greater awareness of their ability rather than focusing on the prefix of dis. However, if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs and the question arises “Who shall I treat with our precious resources?” the answer may not be favourable for those with disability. This may not be due to a lack of love but because a relentless virus like this forces people to make agonising and tough decisions. 

What about people living with disability? How will they fare in the current outbreak? 

We are not totally innocent of this in European countries either, where our own ventilators were/are too few. The virulence of this virus means those with pre-existing health issues are most at risk, and this will often include those with disability. The question of equal rights for all humanity fades into the distance. 

How does it feel to be a person with disability living in fear of catching COVID-19? How does it feel to know you are probably deemed of less worth to save than an able-bodied person? Who will speak for those with disability to get fair treatment in hospitals? 

Maybe we end up with more questions than answers, but this will not change our commitment to work for a fairer life for people living with disability who are created in God’s image and are equal members of the body of Christ.

By Bridget Hathaway 

The Impact of COVID-19

Today the world is facing what we can call a tragedy: COVID-19, the strange disease which has spread all over the world. 

All countries have been in great fear and are struggling to find the solution to this pandemic. We have witnessed our beloved ones passing away, even those from “developed” countries where we thought the situation could be easily handled but where the cases of infected people were/are rising every day. 

If the situation is like this in developed countries, what about Africa where health facilities and other resources required for tackling the outbreak are limited? Anyone can simply assume the situation might be worse in Africa.

If the pandemic continues, which groups of people will be significantly affected?

African countries, like other countries, took various measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Among the measures taken by the government in Tanzania was closing all schools from pre-primary to university level and prohibiting all avoidable gatherings and travel. 

Despite all these measures, the government encouraged people to continue with their duties while taking preventive measures as given by the Ministry of Health. Surprisingly, although gatherings have been stopped, churches are still open. However, serious preventative measures are insisted upon. These measures include hand sanitization, an increased number of church services to allow fewer people in one service to keep the recommended social distance, and service times have been shortened to a maximum of forty-five minutes. 

I have been thinking, if the pandemic continues, which groups of people will be significantly affected? In reality, all vulnerable groups will be more affected, but for people with disabilities the effect could be even worse due to the social and economic environment surrounding them. Access to preventive equipment and other preventive practices may be restricted for them, and following health related instructions becomes a challenge. 

Everyone has a role to play to ensure people with disabilities are protected from COVID-19. 

Let us think about people with severe impairment who normally need constant support from their relatives; how will this take place? What about people who are deaf and those who cannot read; how do they get information on preventative measures? I cannot imagine what to do with people who have learning disabilities; these are people we sometimes find in the streets without any care! 

This takes me to the conclusion that everyone has a role to play to ensure people with disabilities are also protected from COVID-19 like other people in the community.

By Flavian Kishekwa

Included and Valued: A Practical Theology of Disability by Bridget Hathaway and Flavian Kishekwa

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