Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor calls on governments to ensure access to food, medication and essential supplies for persons with disabilities

By Erzsébet Oláh 17th September 2020

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It is with grave concern that the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor (DRM) calls on governments to take immediate emergency measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to food, medication, and other essential supplies. Analysis by the COVID-19 DRM has revealed that government failure to take measures to protect the most basic needs of persons with disabilities has resulted in preventable deaths. Almost one-third of the survey respondents said that people with disabilities in their country lacked access to food or medication at some points during the pandemic.

Respondents from high, middle and low-income countries reported remarkably similar barriers to accessing basic necessities. Respondents from high-income countries such as Canada, the USA, the UK, France and Australia complained that a rise in the cost of living combined with a breakdown of social and financial supports has resulted in people with disabilities not being able to afford essentials.

My main concern is that the living expenses of all people with disabilities have gone up, and continue to go up, and the Australian government insists that they haven’t. Many of us are getting to the point of missing meals altogether, choosing between food or medication. (Australia, person with disabilities).

Similarly, respondents from low and middle income countries including Uganda, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone said that rising inflation rates meant that they could not afford food and medicine.

To get medicine is not easy in my community, pharmacies demands United States Dollars, which the majority don’t have and the medicines are very expensive beyond the reach of many persons with disabilities. (Zimbabwe, person with disabilities).

Access to necessities was particularly difficult in countries with strict curfews or quarantine enforcement methods, including France, Serbia, the Philippines, and Kenya. Those who could leave their homes to seek food, medicine and other essentials such as diapers risked fines, harassment and brutality from police and security forces (See the COVID-19 DRM Statement on police brutality). Furthermore, respondents expressed concerns for homeless persons with disabilities, many of whom were children who previously relied on begging to buy food.

When food and medication were available, the distribution was initiated by NGOs, organisations of persons with disabilities, or charities, and not by the government, leading to uneven food distribution throughout the country. Food relief efforts did not reach persons with disabilities living in remote and rural areas and persons living in institutions. Furthermore, many children with disabilities relied on schools to provide meals, yet governments have failed to replace these meals when schools were closed.

In accordance with their obligations under international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we call on governments, funders, and global actors to take the following emergency measures in partnership with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to avoid further humanitarian catastrophe:

  • Guarantee affordable food, medicine and other essentials, such as baby products for people with disabilities and their family members.
  • Collect data from persons with disabilities on the need for food, medicine, and other essential services.
  • Enact emergency measures to ensure adequate food, and medication distribution throughout the country, including rural and remote areas, and in institutions.
  • Take emergency measures to end police brutality, and fines against persons with disabilities and their family members.
  • Provide financial assistance to persons with disabilities to cover the additional cost of living, and the rise in the cost of food, medications and other essential supplies.
  • Work with private sector companies such as supermarkets to ensure that food is delivered to the homes of persons with disabilities who are unable to leave
  • Provide meals for all children with and without disabilities who cannot access school meals.
  • Encourage supermarkets, grocery stores, and other commercial enterprises to allocate dedicated times for vulnerable shoppers, including persons with disabilities

The COVID-19 DRM Coordinating Group believes that failure to take these steps will lead to further, preventable deaths of persons with disabilities.

Disability Rights Monitor, Coordinating Group