By Tsepang Nare
Respect for human rights is not social work, it is not an act of compassion. It is the first obligation of governance and the source of its legitimacy as alluded to by Ronald Reagan.
This is also espoused in the country’s constitution where there is reaffirmation of commitment to upholding and defending fundamental human rights and freedoms. However, the advent of Covid-19 following the first reported case a year ago marked an escalation of erosion in the pathway of freedoms. Thus making violation of human rights a characteristic synonymous with our society where persons with disabilities are not spared.
Friday 20th of March 2020 became a day many dreaded as fear, anxiety and uncertainty predominated following announcement by Minister of Health and Child Care that a suspected Covid-19 patient had tested positive in the country.
The psychological effect that had a bearing amongst many was as a result of seeing how the pandemic had wrecked havoc in first world countries. The major bearing the pandemic had on people was triggered by the fact that despite developed countries having a state of the art health care system, it was at the brink of collapsing. As a result that became worrisome looking at an already dysfunctional health system by trying to visualise what would become of this nation and its people if a catastrophe of this nature was to befall Zimbabwe.
As levels of emotional distress increased, amongst persons with disabilities in particular those who are deaf and hard of hearing they were in complete darkness as to what was happening. Even as public awareness was carried out including on tv there was no sign language interpretation. While the rest of the cluster fortunate to have access to mobile phones and or access to the internet relied on information shared on social media platforms. Some of it malicious and concocted with fabricated stories.
The Civil Society Organisations playing its watch dog role had to counter hegemony and ensure there is observance of human rights through proper information dissemination as enshrined under Section 62 of the constitution which led to improved communication.
However exclusion of the ministry of public service, labour and social services, and PWDs themselves starting from the Ad hoc Inter-Ministerial Taskforce committee right up to Provincial and district committees set up to deliberate on Covid-19 issues and mobilise resources has continued to prevail unabated. Therefore voices remain suppressed as they are not included in meaningful and effective decision making.
This is further evidenced by the recently introduced lockdown at the beginning of the year when there was a spike in Covid-19 cases due to unrestricted movements during the festive season. Despite a chunk of 6.9 billion part of the national budget allocation channelled towards social protection of vulnerable groups, the ministry of public service, labour and social services was allocated US$793 million which is 1.64% of the budget.
Failure by government to see to it that vulnerable groups are well catered for so that they do not experience after shocks of not being able to fully provide for themselves has exacerbated inequality widening the gap between those who “have” and those who “have not” resulting in others languishing in extreme poverty yet being hunger stricken.
Following government’s announcement through the head of state that a consignment of 200 000 donated Sinopharm vaccines would be arriving mid February meant that it would be the end of a grim situation that has led to compounded problems of PWDs. After all being vaccinated and achieving head immunity would be a great milestone in the fight against the biological warfare.
Little did PWDs know that they would be rocked by yet another perplexity storm as history has a funny and unpleasant way of repeating its self. 21 days after the arrival of the consignment which was rolled out 3 days later on the 18th of February 2021, there is still no clear cut information to the citizenry in as far as awareness raising is concerned. Instead social media is awash with conspiracy theories and myths peddled as facts.
What becomes even more troubling is a list of those who must not receive the jab through injection of an inactivated virus which included those with HIV/AIDs, immunodeficiency not to mention the epileptic amongst other groups. As rumour mongering continues without being thwarted, it results in increased reluctance and resistance. On the other hand, some CSOs have been extremely out and about in calling for inclusion of PWDs in the vaccination roll out programme. However amongst the constituency questions pile one after the other without answers that are correct, factual and satisfactory.
Human interaction is the key force to overcoming resistance and speeding change and doing this must be founded upon accountability and transparency. The Public Health Act (chapter 15:17) under section 37 clearly elaborates that the Health Service Board must ensure that appropriate, adequate and comprehensive information is disseminated on the health services for which it is responsible.
Moreso, section 44(1) states that a user has the right to participate in any decision affecting his/her personal health and treatment. Therefore there is need to undertake a more proactive approach in as far as adequate and proper information sharing is concerned. That includes ensuring that in every team dispatched to undertake the awareness campaign, there are sign language interpreters or PWDs to assist to make sure that the process runs smoothly. Thus allowing the constituency to make informed decisions and become proactive.
Harnessing and embracing technology becomes a stepping stone towards robust awareness intervention initiatives through creation of platforms that act as information centres upon installation of the app. Thus demystifying all misconceptions and myths yet responding to those critical and burning issue. By so doing it caters for the visual impaired people whose access to information is usually restricted.
However with such a provision and or working with Disabled People’s organisation to plan, design, implement the project where information is also shared and wide using compatible and user friendly communication mechanisms like audios and use of visuals does have a far reaching effect. Not excluding distribution of pamphlets inscribed in braille to cate for those in remote areas without access to smartphones
The fight against the pandemic requires concerted effort which is evidenced by inclusion and meaningful participation of PWDs so as to conquer. Piecemeal approaches do more harm than good as they reverse all against made and derail progress needed to vehemently bring a drastic turn around.