LETTER TO THE EDITOR
An urgent plea: Persons with disabilities must be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccination
As a person with a disability, I am deeply distressed that to date the forthcoming immediate registration of the Phase 2 rollout plan is primarily for persons over 60. Persons with disabilities under 60 have not been prioritised, writes reader Marlene le Roux.
Marlene le Roux is a disability and women’s rights activist. She is co-founder of the Women’s Achievement Network for Disability, and CEO of the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town.
The South African government just recently announced that the country’s Covid-19 vaccination programme would resume its rollout, after it was temporarily suspended due to worldwide concerns of a possible link between the current one being used viz, 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 healthcare 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 rollout 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 rollout plans is primarily for persons over 60. 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 according to age group (viz, 60+) and have “not yet decided how comorbidities will be incorporated, if at all”, according to deputy director of the Western Cape health department, Anne-Rita Koen.
I am a trustee of Tygerberg Hospital, a survivor of Covid-19, and remain in mourning for my beloved mother who passed away due to Covid-19 complications. Not having been vaccinated as a child during the polio pandemic, I contracted the virus 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:
“Persons with disabilities face increased risk of contracting Covid-19 due to 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 high-risk 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 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 diseases, among a host of others rendering the body severely compromised to contract severe Covid-19 affliction and possible death due to its concomitant complications.
The Lancet of 21 April 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 rollout 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 the state to urgently consider the prioritisation and procedure of registration for these vulnerable members of our community in the Phase 2 vaccination rollout 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 government 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.
Thank you for your continued support and attentiveness to secure the nation with the necessary needs to arrest the sweeping devastation that this ongoing pandemic may cause. DM