Dr Marlene le Roux, CEO of Artscape, Cape Town. Photographer: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
Dr Marlene le Roux, CEO of Artscape, Cape Town. Photographer: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Prioritise persons with disabilities for Covid-19 vaccination

By Opinion Time of article published May 17, 2021

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by Marlene le Roux

The government has just recently announced that the country’s Covid-19 vaccination programme would resume its vaccination roll-out after it was temporarily suspended due to worldwide concerns of a possible link between the current one being used, Johnson & Johnson, and formation of deadly blood clots.

Furthermore, it has laid out its Phase 2 rollout plan which is to vaccinate 1.5 million people by the end of May inclusive of our health-care practitioners, and another 13 million from May to October.

The announcements are a welcome relief towards proactive medical measures and intervention in the hope of stemming the tide of this deadly pandemic that recently swept our nation during its “second wave” and is currently devastating and ravaging nations such as India, Brazil and Turkey, to name but a few.

It is thus noted that government’s immediate and short-term roll-out plan does target a range of vulnerable persons.

However, as a person with a disability I am deeply distressed that, to date, the forthcoming immediate registration of the Phase 2 roll-out plans is primarily for persons over 60.

Given that, persons with disabilities under 60 have not been prioritised. Even more so, I am dismayed by the response of the Western Cape government when approached on the subject matter of prioritising the disabled with a reiteration that they would be going by age group (60+) and have “not yet decided how comorbidities will be incorporated, if at all” – Deputy Director AnneRita Koen, Western Cape Government Health Department.

As a trustee of Tygerberg Hospital, I am a survivor of Covid-19 and remain in mourning for my beloved mother who passed away due to Covid-19 complications. As a child, during the polio pandemic I contracted the virus, not having been vaccinated and therefore appreciate all the challenges persons with disabilities are currently facing. According to the World Health Organization, persons with disabilities are categorised as vulnerable populations during public health emergency situations.

Institutional, environmental and attitudinal existing barriers exacerbate, and new ones appear in the times of public health emergencies, restricting further the exercise of basic rights for persons with disabilities, including the right to life, the right to access to health care and the right to independent living. This has been extensively documented during the global Covid-19 pandemic. The International Disability Alliance states that persons with disabilities face an increased risk of contracting Covid-19 because of existing health conditions and inequities in underlying and social determinants of health and contact with support service providers.

In case of contracting Covid-19, those groups of persons with disabilities with pre-existing conditions, such as respiratory challenges, are at higher risk of developing critical conditions or losing their lives. Due to attitudinal and environmental barriers, persons with disabilities are often among the last groups who can access highly demanded public services, in particular in situations of risk and emergency.

Thus, persons with disabilities remain a highrisk group to contract severe affliction of Covid-19 due to a lowered if not compromised immune system. While a person with a disability is often identified as one with visible disabilities, such as those caused by an accident, there is the cohort of those born with disabilities as well as disabilities caused by a host of diseases including, Lyme-, Crohn’s-, psoriatic arthritis, autoimmune and pulmonary hypertension disease ,among a host of others, rendering the body severely compromised to contract severe Covid-19 affliction and possible death because of its concomitant complications.

The Lancet publication of April 21 2021 states: “People with disabilities have not been adequately included in the Covid-19 response, resulting in pandemic-related inequities … reflecting deeper social injustice and exclusion. At this inflection point in the pandemic, commitment to advancing health equity for the remainder of the vaccine roll-out and beyond is paramount.“

The role of Parliament, as per the Disaster Management Act, is to hear the voice of the people in order for our constitutional rights to be exercised and to proffer additional solutions and interventions to carry us through this pandemic.

It is thus, given the aforementioned background, that as a person with a disability, a member of the Presidential Task Team on persons with disabilities and in my capacity as a disability activist, I beseech you to urgently consider the prioritisation and procedure of registration for these vulnerable members of our community in the Phase 2 vaccination roll-out process, not only via technology but to include social development platforms and local clinics.

Failing this, immediate inclusion of this vulnerable group could result in unnecessary suffering, illness and death, adding to the magnitude of the current pandemic.

I equally invite you to contact me in regard to the plea of this letter as I will avail myself to assist with additional input and advice as per the required interaction espoused in Parliament’s role.

Thanking you for your continued support and attentiveness to secure the nation with the necessary needs to arrest the sweeping devastation that this pandemic may cause.

* Marlene le Roux is CEO of the Artscape Theatre Centre.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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