Marlene le Roux is a persons-living-with-disabilities activist and Artscape chief executive.
Marlene le Roux is a persons-living-with-disabilities activist and Artscape chief executive.

Coronavirus: People living with disabilities even more at risk than others

By Marlene le Roux Time of article published Mar 26, 2020

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Covid-19 has descended on the world. South Africa is no exception as infectious cases continue to increase.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, together with the National coronavirus Command Council, has decided to enforce a nationwide lockdown for 21 days with effect from midnight today

This follows on the declaration of a National State of Disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act. Steps were taken in consultation with provincial premiers, business leaders, health professionals and various government tiers including opposition parties, labour unions and a range of stakeholders.

I wish to thank the president and aforementioned stakeholders for boldly leading us with their guidance, as well as the proactive and preventative measures being implemented.

It is heartening to see that, despite our diversity, we have come together as a nation to fight and hopefully overcome this pandemic together with the international community. I am confident that this focus will assist in preventing and reducing the outbreak of the virus, as envisaged.

A host of measures have also been introduced for the vulnerable, destitute and needy throughout South Africa - one of several countries with high levels of socio-economic inequality including lack of access to clean water and other basic services

Of pertinent concern to me as a person living with a disability is the supportive and preventative measures that are required for this cohort of people. Most are not in such a privileged position as mine and cannot even afford basic needs while living from hand to mouth, often dependent on others for their care, including social grants.

Persons with disabilities generally have more health-care needs than others - both standard needs and needs linked to impairments - and are therefore more vulnerable to the impact of low-quality or inaccessible health-care services than others. 

Compared to persons without disabilities, persons with disabilities are more likely to have poor health: among 43 countries, 42% of persons with disabilities versus 6% of persons without disabilities perceive their health as poor, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Disability.

South Africa is no exception. While having a disability probably does not by itself put someone at higher risk of catching the coronavirus, many persons with disabilities do have specific underlying conditions that make the disease more dangerous for them.

Many are high risk of becoming seriously ill and possibly dying because some of the medications they have to take in order to remain stable, healthy and empowered compromise their immune systems.

Therefore, the disabled are naturally as anxious about catching the coronavirus as those living without disabilities are.

Self-isolation is often not an option for persons living with disabilities, as they are reliant on caregivers for everyday self-care tasks. They are also reliant on transport from others to go shopping. Even the cleaning of homes and washing of hands can be extra difficult due to physical impairments.

While I am cognisant of and grateful for all the intervention methods availed for the most vulnerable of our society to deal with Covid-19, extra care is needed for persons living with disabilities to control, contain and overcome this pandemic together with fellow South African citizens. The following basics are needed:

1. Delivery of care packages including sanitisers, soap, masks and other essentials.

2. A dedicated telephone hotline for check-in service.

3. Accessible information.

I would like to call on all of us as citizens and residents of this country to work together, and especially the youth.

Let us not take this pandemic lightly. We’ve seen its devastating consequences in countries such as China, Italy and Spain. Let us together adhere to the regulations of the lockdown to flatten the curve to help our systems fight the outbreak.

As we head for the 21 days of lockdown, may all of us remain safe, practise safe hygiene, continue with social distancing when going out for the necessities required and, above all, continue to practise our ubuntu.

* Marlene le Roux is a persons-living-with-disabilities activist and Artscape chief executive.

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