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‘How PWDs were neglected during COVID-19 vaccination in Lagos’

The Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), Mr. David Anyaele, has urged the Lagos State government to look for ways to make the COVID- 19 vaccine accessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the state. The CCD is a non-profit making and foremost human rights organisation for PWDs, which works to promote inclusion, participation, access, and the mainstreaming of issues of critical concern of citizens with disabilities in the programmes and activities of state and nonstate institutions.

It also works to educate, support and empower PWDS and their families to maximize their potential. Anyaele spoke at Ikeja, Lagos recently. In attendance was the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, represented by Mr. Adesegun Ogundeji, a director in the ministry of information. The gathering was for CCD to make a public presentation of a report on access to COVID-19 vaccine among PWDs in the state. Anyaele said that after the vaccine was deployed in the state, he and others had expected that vulnerable people would first be vaccinated, but rather, they noticed that ‘influential’ people were given preferences. He expressed shock that during the roll of the vaccine early this year, the state government didn’t factor in how the vaccine would get to PWDs.

He added: “Over the past one year, COVID- 19 has had a huge impact across the world. It became obvious that we needed to use available human right and public health approaches to distribute vaccines to those who need them most as speedily as we could. Observation showed that limited vaccine supplies were being allocated based on wealth and geography, rather than by science, public health or human needs.

The implications from the foregoing for the disability community is yet unknown since persons with disabilities are among the less prepared for health emergencies such as COVID-19 pandemic.” Anyaele recalled that the Minister of Health had stated that there was a very intricate distribution plan, which had been set up by the Federal Ministry of Health through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.

“The National COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan in Nigeria indicates distribution will give priority to frontline health workers, elderly and vulnerable groups in Nigeria. Observation shows that there is no commitment on the part of the government towards making specific provision for persons with disabilities in accessing the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria since arrival,” Anyaele alleged. He explained that it was after much noise had been made, which was when the vaccine was almost finished, that 50 doses were brought to his members.

He said that a similar challenge played out in Abuja, with PWDs being excluded in the state. He said: “That experience showed that there’s a danger. This informs our concern. In Lagos and Abuja, where we have CCD offices, we witnessed these challenges. This report hopefully will ensure we secure commitment from the Lagos State commitment on the vaccine getting to PWDs.

Our struggle to get access to the vaccine should be looked into. If we must get to the PWDs in Lagos, then the information ministry will need to be carried along. When it’s something good, PWDs will be excluded. The ministry of health locks doors against us.” Responding, Ogundeji said that the pandemic exposed a series of challenges.

He added that the state government was an inclusive one, stressing that whether a person was PWDs or not, the most important thing was that such a was first a human being, this then presupposes that they will be treated as normal and vaccinated. He added: “I’m aware that logistics are being put in place to ensure smooth access to vaccination. We want to ensure they are not stressed or exposed to the virus in the struggle for the vaccine.

Our appeal is that in all PWDs matters, Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) should be carried along. LASODA is the first line of contact when issues on PWDs come up. CCD should do more on collaboration. However, I commend the CCD.” CCD Researcher, Mr. Owoyomi Victor, opined that enough information and sensitization was not made by the state government in Lagos, at least with PWDs in mind. This was also as he stated that most PWDs cluster heads (leaders of different groups), mentioned that they first heard about availability of COVID- 19 vaccine on radio and television.

Victor, who interviewed the cluster heads, recalled that while speaking with a physically challenged male, he reportedly told him, “I think if the governments want the dissemination of information to be very effective, they need to go through the cluster heads and also train us on the things we need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine, then we can disseminate the information to our members.

This is not to say they should stop using social media. Going through the cluster head is something they just have to consider as well.” Victor further stated: “PWDs participants were asked the kind of information they heard about COVID-19 vaccine in Lagos; while some got proper information, the majority, especially among the hearing impaired clusters, have not been well informed about the vaccine. For instance, a participant during one of the meetings pointed out thus, ‘the information I got concerning the vaccine is that the government is using it to cause mental disorders, that it is a form of networking and other negative information from people.’

Whilst majority of PWDs’ cluster heads in Lagos have good knowledge of the arrival of COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria, many PWDs demonstrated poor knowledge of the availability, safety and efficacy of the vaccine to prevent COVID-19 among the disability community. PWDs have wrong perception and several misconceptions about the vaccine.

They demonstrated fear about its safety; efficacy and, many PWDs have been extremely discouraged because of the cost of transportation to the COVID-19 vaccines centres.” Victor explained that other PWDs, whom he spoke with, narrated their challenges with institutions, which affected their access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Some of the factors are the social and institutional barriers and they include lack of proper dissemination of information about COVID-19 Vaccine among PWDs in Lagos State. There are also factors like communication barriers, lack of sign language interpreters or signage, posters at the COVID-19 vaccine centres in Lagos.

There are also physical and structural barriers like lack of ramps and staircase. Victor noted that another barrier affecting PWDs access to COVID-19 vaccine was attitudinal barriers. This includes denial of PWDs rights to priority on a public queue and poor knowledge of health workers about disability rights and needs.

A female albino in Kosofe Local Government Area reportedly said: “There is no availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for PWDs in Lagos State, because in the local government that it is being given, people with disabilities and able bodies, persons without disabilities, were all kept in the same place. The distance of the local government, where the vaccine is given is far and on getting there and seeing the kind of multitude there discouraged me.

There is inadequate information and enlightenment about the COVID-19 vaccine among PWDs in Lagos.” Victor argued in his presentations, that an overwhelming 100 per cent of all the PWDs head clusters in Lagos indicated that none of them had been engaged or involved in any of the COVID-19 vaccine government stakeholders’ engagement, forums, activities and training. “Also, findings showed in clear terms that Lagos State Primary Health Care Board (PHCB) has not made any specific provisions for PWDs in accessing COVID-19 vaccine in Lagos State.

The participant indicated that special consideration could be given at the vaccine centres but there is currently no standalone policy guideline specifically put in place to enhance access to COVID-19 vaccine for PWDs in Lagos State.” Anyaele stated that governments’ effort in reducing the socioeconomic health inequity and epidemiology burden of COVID-19 pandemic in Lagos State would be ineffective without deliberate inclusion and mainstreaming of issues of critical importance to the disability community.

He also mentioned that the absence of synergy between the PHCB and Lagos State Office of Disabilities Affairs (LASODA) has further institutionalised discrimination and promoted exclusion of PWDs from the state government COVID-19 Vaccine programmes and activities. He noted: “By implication, it has been illustrated that government effort to reduce the community spread of COVID-19 pandemic in Lagos State will not be complete if PWDs critical needs towards accessing COVID-19 vaccine on an equal basis with others are not given deserved policy attention.”

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