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HI is working with people with disabilities to mitigate disproportionate impact of COVID-19


Health | Inclusion | Prevention | International | PUBLISHED ON December 1st 2020
Distribution of hygiene kits in Mozambique

© HI

December 3 marks International Day of People with Disabilities. They are often excluded from the rest of the society. The long-term impacts of COVID-19 threaten to exacerbate this exclusion even further.

HI supports people with disabilities who are often left out during a crisis response. These are the main challenges that they continue to face due to the pandemic.

Access to health services

  • Essential health care is still in some countries inaccessible to people with disabilities, who tend to have more healthcare needs even in ‘normal’ times’. Now, health services – that are very insufficient in poor countries - have become even harder to access due to COVID-19 restriction measures or because medical staff are more focused on responding to the pandemic…
  • Discrimination and stigma has intensified during the pandemic: medical staff may deny health care to a person with disabilities, considering they should be taken by a specialised centre. People with disabilities can see their health status worsening, risking complications and additional permanent impairments or reduced functional ability.
  • HI has launched programmes to continue rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities and mitigate the impact of the COVID:
    • For example, HI supports a virtual tele-rehabilitation platform to provide physiotherapy sessions in Rwanda.
    • HI also organised 1000 online rehabilitation sessions for patients in Nepal.
    • It is a small revolution in these countries, where many remote areas can be inaccessible for health services.

Inadequate awareness raising to COVID-19

  • People with disabilities are often left out in campaign awareness against COVID-19:
    • For instance, leaflets are not adapted for people who are blind.
    • In some areas, awareness raising leaflets are only distributed in hospitals which limits the number of people who are able to access these resources (if the hospital is not adapted with ramps, wheelchair users may not be able to access to the building).
    • These lack of information put people with disabilities more at risk of catching the virus.
  • HI conducted a study in Ethiopia which found that 40% of adults and 45% of children with disabilities declared that they did not have access to public information on COVID-19 that they could understand.
  • In many countries, HI launched radio campaigns that are accessible to people with disabilities. We also launched awareness campaigns in sign languages on TV to be accessible for deaf people, like in Nepal. 

Marginalization and seclusion

  • People with disabilities face isolation and exclusion, as social support services and networks, including personal assistance like caregivers, are disrupted. They may have difficulties to carry out simple day to day activities such as showering and going to the toilet without assistance.
  • In some countries lockdown has led to dramatic implications where people with disabilities are unable to access food and basic supplies.
  • The risk of violence to children and adults with disabilities is routinely three to four times higher than for those without disabilities.[1] In the current circumstances, public restrictions, self-isolation of households and disruption of community life may lead to increased violence towards persons with disabilities.
  • For example in Kenya, HI received reports of authorities exerting violent acts towards people with disabilities who were on their way home after the curfew because police considered that they did not want to abide by the law.

No Livelihoods

  •  COVID-19 measures and restrictions bring the global economy to a standstill. People with disabilities - who are more likely to be poor and unemployed and to have low education in normal time - are disproportionately affected by this economic shock because they were already excluded from the formal and informal economy.
  • Furthermore, the majority of people with disabilities do not benefit from any form of social protection:[2]
    • For example, in Nepal and in Madagascar, HI meets many people with disabilities who have lost their income and have even had to reduce their nutritional intake.
    • In Haiti, 65% of respondents to an HI survey said that the economic support they normally receive has been greatly disrupted since the declaration of the state of health emergency.
    • In order to alleviate this impact, HI has so far distributed assistance for basic needs to 360 000 people worldwide.




Review on the prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities, published by Lancet in July 2012 and carried out by Liverpool John Moores University’s Centre for Public Health, a WHO Collaborating Centre for Violence Prevention, and WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability.

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