Governor Udom Emmanuel

Abasifreke Effiong – Uyo

Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) are among the population cluster least attended to by the Akwa Ibom state government since the novel Coronavirus was reported in the state.

The vulnerability of blind persons in the state is further worsened by banks which have shut them out of access to services in the ongoing lockdown in the state which is in the third week.

The public relations officer, National Association of the Blind in Nigeria, Mr Ubong Udo, says persons with disabilities are “worst hit” by the scourge of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Persons with disabilities have been sidelined and excluded in the state government’s response to the outbreak of COVID -19.

It is getting to three weeks since Governor Udom Emmanuel, invoked the Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Order, forcing residents of the state to stay at home to avoid the spread of the novel Coronavirus, no palliative has been given to PWDs by the government.

However, the Akwa Ibom state incident management committee on COVID -19, headed by Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, secretary to Akwa Ibom state government, had earlier last week distributed palliative to politicians and other clusters in the state, leaving out PWDs, a large cluster of her citizens who need special care and more social support in a crisis period like this.

COVID-19:Persons with disabilities excluded from palliative, shut out by banks in Akwa Ibom Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, SSG and Chairman, Incident Management Committee on COVID-19, Akwa Ibom state.

The Akwa Ibom state government and banks in the state have kept a disturbing streak of insensitivity towards the already vulnerable population of about one million people living with disabilities in the state during this lockdown.

The World Health Organisation in 2011, says persons with disabilities constitute 15 percent of every population. Akwa Ibom with an estimated population of seven million people, has a population of about 1.050 million people living with disability. This is the number of people who are totally excluded and exposed to Coronavirus due to lack of information.

Information sharing on the pandemic packaged by government and private organisations are strictly for the able, leaving the disable who need more information uninformed and disconnected.

Some blind people who have bank accounts are further disconnected from having access to their money.

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The Dune gathered that some members of the association of the blind in the state who sought to withdraw money from banks last week Friday when the lockdown was relaxed were turned back.

Banks in the state had shut down operations except for ATM services, since the scourge of the pandemic started hitting hard on the country.

Banks do not allow blind people who own accounts to keep debit cards or use ATM. The banks have not provided alternative platforms where their customers with sight problems can make cash withdrawals during the lockdown.

Surviving the lockdown as a person with disability who do not have access to information, money and palliative is not easy, because the government that should provide the needed respite has not been forthcoming either on information sharing about the pandemic or social care.

Mr Ubong Udoh said the Akwa Ibom state government has not sensitized or engaged any of the four clusters of persons with disabilities in the state on the Coronavirus pandemic, hence leaving them more vulnerable than the rest of the population.

“Persons with disabilities are not involved in the response in the fight against COVID -19. We are not involved in the enlightenment or any other programme of government in the response to the Coronavirus pandemic.”

“What awareness material has the government designed for the blind? Do we have brail materials on measures the blind should take to protect themselves against this COVID -19? What about the deaf and dumb, do we have any jingle on sign language on television?”

COVID-19:Persons with disabilities excluded from palliative, shut out by banks in Akwa Ibom Mr. Ubong Udo, Public Relations Officer, Association of the Blind, Nigeria.

He said PWDs, particularly the blind and people on wheelchairs will default on social distancing prescription as well as respiratory hygiene. PWDs in the state do not have access to personal protective devices.

“We are the worst hit in this lockdown. Let me give you an example. Social distancing for the blind is pretty difficult. We depend on people to lead us. How do you protect yourself? How do you even observe the social distancing?”

“It means therefore that for one to go out as a blind person, you need hand gloves, you need a face mask and your own hand sanitizer on you all the time. So you need to properly sanitize the person who is coming to guide you. The question is, how many blind persons in Akwa Ibom state have the wherewithal to buy these things? And I think the government should have stepped in to assist the disabled, by providing these protective devices for us.”

Udoh said PWDs were excluded in the relief package given by the state government even though palliative are meant for the vulnerable and the ‘poorest of the poor.’

“If government wanted to give palliative to the vulnerable and the poorest of the poor, then people with disabilities are not represented, then I am wondering what perimeter was used to select the poorest of the poor. Again, why is it that whatever the government wants to do for PWDs, it uses the able and not use us?”

“If government was planning to give us palliative, the first two weeks of the lockdown have ended few days, if there was a plan, we should have had it before today. For now, I have spoken with the state chairperson of Joint Association of Persons With Disabilities, she said she has not heard anything from the government.”

“If the government is also thinking that we are from different villages, that’s true. But the chance of persons with disabilities being selected by their different villages is very slim. We all know the societal perception of disability and so if the people in the village don’t look at you as someone that should live or someone that should coexist with them, who would even remember you in the sharing of the palliative? The ideal thing for government to do is to work with the different clusters of disabilities that we have which is known by the government or the umbrella organisation which is JONAPWD.”

Earlier, The Dune reported that the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, CCD, had called on the Akwa Ibom state government to create disability desk at isolation centers to address the needs of PWDs.

There is no desk created to address the needs of PWDs at any of the isolation centers in the state.

However, the state secretary of JONAPWD, Prince Akaninyene Isidore, said no government at any level has voluntarily involved persons with disabilities in the strategic planning or palliative distribution committee.

COVID-19:Persons with disabilities excluded from palliative, shut out by banks in Akwa Ibom Mr. Akaninyene Isidore, Secretary, JONAPWD, Akwa Ibom state at CCD capacity training in Uyo.

Isidore said it was when stakeholders of the association started agitating for inclusion that was when two local government areas, Ikot Ekpene and Essien Udim involved PWDs in their palliative.

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He further said that the state government has not involved PWDs in the sharing of palliative and in the strategic response against COVID -19, even though persons with disabilities have serious health needs that require close attention.

“The state government has not officially involved PWDs in the distribution of palliative nor in the strategic committee. From medical history, persons with disabilities have underlying diseases. For instance, some PWDs have polio meningitis which makes them have difficulties breathing well. So, if someone with disabilities contacts Coronavirus, his/her condition will worsen within few days.”

Isidore however argued that the non-inclusion of JONAPWD in the distribution of palliative and the incident management committee on COVID-19 tantamount to discrimination by the Akwa Ibom state government.

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The Dune learnt that the office of the wife of the Governor of Akwa Ibom on Saturday gave four bags of 25kg of rice and four bags of 25kg of garri to JONAPWD.

When contacted on Monday morning, the Commissioner for Information in Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Charles Udoh who is also a member of the incident management committee on COVID-19 in the state, said the governor has approved palliative for PWDs.

“The governor has approved palliative for persons with disabilities and non – indigenes. We were giving the palliative in batches, so PWDs will get their own today (Monday).”

On the exclusion of the PWDs from the incident management team and the state response to COVID-19, Udoh said it was an oversight, promised to discuss it with the government.

“This is a genuine concern and I thank you for raising it. I will discuss it with the committee when we meet. I assure you that it will be treated”, Udoh promised.