Zimbabwe: People With Disabilities Deserve Equal Rights in Vaccination

Noel Dangarembwa, Brenda Mudzimu, Shamiso Kabayahwaro and Senzeni Mutevedzi

There is often an academic argument that justifies certain human rights as weighing more than others.

Violating the right to life will definitely attract a prison sentence while it is probable and often the case that most people simply get away with violating the right to freedom of speech.

However, the right to life and equitable access to affordable health care cannot be contested and as such, people with disabilities equally deserve to enjoy these rights.

Currently, there is need to locate people with disabilities during the mobile vaccination programmes.

The prevailing Covid-19 pandemic caught individuals and institutions off-guard leaving informed minds with no choice, but to work together in trying to find plausible solutions.

The collaboration and co-ordination among stakeholders resulted in the removal of boundaries of mistrust and hate to such an extent that some copied and pasted what other global, regional and local health experts, together with boundary partners, were implementing as preventive measures.

The plan worked, the vaccines were developed, distributed globally and campaigns ran to prop people into vaccinating.

However, what is disturbing is the absence of disabled people as a major stakeholder in the entire vaccination drive.

Organisations representing people disability made noise and their calls were audible enough yet their calls were continuously being ignored.

When applying a different viewing lens, there is reason to believe that the absence of people with disabilities is not deliberate, but rather a question of the time the pandemic provided for pulling everyone together.

It will be unjust to throw the blame around considering that the majority of the population were experiencing a pandemic of this magnitude for the first time.

The current position we are as a country has allowed us to draw lessons from recent vaccination programmes.

Firstly, there is need to include people with disabilities when crafting vaccination programmes.

That will definitely be of great help to everyone since disabled people form part of the high risk vulnerable groups.

In short "for us without us" does not encourage equal access, participation and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Secondly, by incorporating disabled people in vaccination campaigns creates an environment that brings together health workers, community members and other institutions to understand the needs and concerns of those with disabilities.

By so doing, the entire ecosystem is informed and well equipped to handle the disparities that exist in the equitable access and distribution of vaccines.

Although the pandemic has taught us many lessons, it is imperative to note that disabled people are capable of independent living in a system that respects all their rights.

These range from access to information in the proper format, equitable access to health care and freedom of movement among other rights.

A level playing field will confirm that disabled people are not just dependent useless individual members of our communities but are rather active participants who can meaningfully contribute towards equitable access to Covid-19 vaccination programmes.

It is the hope of every stakeholder concerned with the plight of people with disabilities that there be further inclusion of disabled people in making important health related decisions especially those that affect the entire population.

It is also important to provide institutional incentives to prop people with disabilities as a way of encouraging them to get vaccinated.

As the pandemic subsides and restrictions are revised, let us all continue to draw from lessons learnt so far and be on-guard.

Efforts should be centred on equitable access to vaccines and vaccination programmes.

By so doing we do not only acknowledge but affirm the assertion that people with disabilities are capable of independent living and require a level playing field to guarantee equal access and participation.

Provided with all the necessary resources and support people with disabilities can contribute immensely in encouraging others to vaccinate.

These people can also help in information dissemination especially to fellows with disabilities.

Noel Dangarembwa, Brenda Mudzimu, Shamiso kabayahwaro and Senzeni Mutevedzi are Africa Disability Alliance Goodwill ambassadors.

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