MASERU – A partnership of the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD) and UNICEF has successfully seen the implementation of the Covid-19 campaign through the former’s disability programme in five of the country’s 10 districts. The initiative was focused in the Maseru, Berea, Leribe, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing districts, and with accessible advocacy messages, Persons with Disabilities’ (PWDs) have sufficient information on Covid-19 vaccines. The six-months project which began in September 2022 and is expected to end in February 2023, has since received a four-months extension.
In an interview, the LNFOD Covid-19 vaccines and disability coordinator, ’Mabataung Mphakela, highlighted that the main goal of the programme was to increase knowledge of persons with disabilities through provision of advocacy messages in accessible formats and to mobilise and support PWDs to vaccinate for Covid-19 and get its booster. This was done through public gatherings and door-to-door campaigns. She said they are supporting the Ministry of Health to reach every eligible person with a full dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, especially adolescents and people with disability to ensure that they receive the life-saving intervention. She also indicated that the programme ensures that all children with disabilities and their caregivers are equipped with knowledge and skills that will ensure that children complete their childhood vaccines and know where to access the information through provision of messaging packed according to their needs.
“The aim is to encourage them, mobilise and support them to vaccinate against Covid-19 and get its booster,” she said.
She said the LNFOD managed to reach 3 456 people to date, that is, 1 882 females and 1 574 males. Among all 3 456 people, 2 078 were persons with disabilities while 1 551 were persons without disabilities who in most cases are the caregivers and parents of persons with disabilities as they support them.
She added: “About 164 people managed to vaccinate, and 122 boosted while 41 got their first dose and 1 child vaccinated for measles.” She highlighted that this Covid-19 vaccines and disability project helped LNFOD to partner with the Ministry of Health in the provision of health services as this was the way to advocate for inclusiveness.Again, she said it is with this project that Lesotho National Association of the Physically Disabled (LNAPD) was able to deliver assistive devices in certain areas that are hard to reach.
“Apart from the Ministry of Health, referrals were made to solve the challenges faced by persons with disabilities on a daily basis, including a disability grant, human rights, education and health,” she added. Regardless of the achievements they have made through the programme, Mphakela said the main challenge was that little education about the effects of vaccines was offered before the community vaccinated, especially persons with disabilities as the messages are always delivered in a way that is not accessible to them.
She said this, as a result, led to some complications that lead the community to being reluctant to vaccinate, while many people still have negative attitudes towards Covid-19 hence they refuse to vaccinate or boost if they have already vaccinated.
Again even if persons with disabilities are willing to vaccinate, she said most villages are far from each other and also far from the health facility. “Because of the nature of their disability, it is difficult for them to access health services,” she said. Apart from that, she said some of the community councilors, nurses and chiefs do not understand disability as they believe a person should be born disabled to say they are disabled.
“Hence, this call for more sensitisation to service providers to increase their understanding on disability,” she explained. A World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF policy brief of 202 highlights that persons with disabilities were disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, both directly and indirectly because of infection, and indirectly because of restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus.
The brief further notes that disruptions in support and assistance services and efforts to reduce potential exposure to the virus, may result in fewer opportunities for persons with disabilities to exercise, interact with others, or continue regular health management, all of which can be detrimental to their health and well-being. They have also noted that women with disabilities may not only face the added risk of domestic violence, health shocks and prolonged periods of isolation in confined spaces but they may also encounter reduced access to appropriate gender-based violence services.