The coronavirus has taken the world by storm, with over 4 million reported cases that have so far claimed nearly 300,000 lives. It is a storm we never anticipated we would have to weather in our lifetime, it is the subject of books and blockbuster movies, not of real life and real people.
While we endure the safety of lockdown, and read the daily news stories of the lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and safety measures for those on the frontline in the UK, or the difficulties many older and disabled people have been facing without carers or personal assistants to help with daily tasks, you would be forgiven for not thinking about what is happening further afield.
The reality is that the pandemic has spread globally and many countries do not have a reliable health service, modern day sanitising equipment, access to PPE or even access to clean water. So, how are people managing to follow social distancing rules and infection control in those countries?
CBM is charity that helps disabled people living in overseas countries, and they have been stepping up to provide frontline staff with PPE and helping to ensure disabled people are given the aid and information they require during this crisis.
CBM UK have stated that at times of crisis, people with disabilities are at greatest risk and can often be among the worst affected and the last to receive help. Some may not hear about the best ways to protect themselves, because health messages are not accessible, while others will be unable to reach help should they become infected with the virus.
As people with disabilities are often among the poorest in their communities, they may struggle to access essentials to keep themselves safe, like clean water and soap, and be unable to afford to stock up on food to cope with lockdown restrictions. Movement restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus mean that many support activities have had to be scaled back, leaving people without help they rely on. Children with disabilities may be particularly affected by school closures as they miss out on specialist support they need.
CBM runs many projects across Africa and Asia, nearly all of which have been affected. They have been working hard to equip their partner hospitals with as much PPE as possible, but are still struggling to secure face masks and hand sanitisers to protect staff and patients.
Nurse Chimi works at a CBM-supported health centre in Cameroon, she commented: “We nurses are at the war front, but have no weapons to defend ourselves… We have no personal protective equipment, no space allocated for COVID-19 cases, no ambulance, no ventilators and limited oxygen tanks… I fear many nurses may die of COVID-19 and I fear exposing my immediate family members. But I love to take care of the sick and I am motivated by my patient’s recovery.”
In Zimbabwe, where millions of people were already at risk of starvation due to natural disaster and economic crisis, CBM’s emergency response team is focused on providing essential food aid packages and have been working with partners to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the communities can access food and vital supplies during lockdown.
Working with local partners and disabled people’s organisations (DPO) in Vietnam has enabled them to distribute packs of cooking oil, dry hand sanitiser, mouthwash, soap, masks, milk, rice and fish sauce to disabled people and older people who live on their own in the community.
Not all countries have inclusive access to important health messages that are being delivered to the population. People with visual impairments or hearing loss are more at risk of not receiving vital health advice, CBM is working with DPOs and media outlets in Nigeria to provide sign language interpretation.
They are also supporting the government in Indonesia to include DPOs in disaster response meetings to raise awareness of the barriers disabled people face in these times and to ensure that the messages and information produced are accessible to all.
Support for people’s mental health has also been recognised and CBM continues to work with various countries to ensure people with mental health conditions are still supported through this time. In Nepal they are even providing online counselling to those who require it, and they are delivering online training to mental health champions in Kenya, all with lived experience of mental health conditions, to help them to support their communities and reduce stigma.
Emergency Coronavirus Appeal
CBM launched their Coronavirus Emergency Appeal to fund their response to the pandemic and to enable them to support their partners and protect disabled people throughout the world. They are working tirelessly to do ensure no one is left behind in this crisis.
If you would like to know more about the appeal visit cbmuk.org.uk/Covid19.
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