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How COVID-19 has impacted Nigerians with disabilities

It is simply over a 12 months because the first circumstances of COVID-19 have been reported in Nigeria. Since then, 1,923 deaths have been recorded by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). For many Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), it has been a 12 months of exclusion and isolation, with extreme financial, well being and psychological penalties.

While it’s thought that there are some 25 million individuals dwelling with disabilities in Nigeria (15 p.c of the inhabitants), there are not any specialist hospitals or services to fulfill their wants. Many normal hospitals which could in any other case present companies have been compelled to shut models due to the pandemic.

It was solely in 2019 that Nigeria handed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act and many individuals with disabilities say they’re nonetheless unable to supply for themselves or acquire high quality medical care.

During the early phases of the pandemic, when radio stations buzzed with news, recommendation and steering about COVID-19, little of the data being offered took the wants of PwDs into consideration: How does a hearing-impaired particular person hearken to radio jingles? How does a visually impaired particular person handle social distancing?

When “palliatives” – meals objects comparable to rice, spaghetti, prompt noodles and garri (cassava flour) – have been distributed by authorities companies and NGOs, it has been exhausting for individuals with disabilities to gather them. Many say they needed to compete with non-disabled individuals on the assortment factors to get a share and would go house empty-handed.

Five Nigerians with disabilities share their tales:

Muheez Abdusalam: ‘No-one wants to help the blind boy’

Muheez Abdusalam is blind. He used to depend on passers-by to assist him cross the highway. Now, due to the pandemic and social distancing guidelines, nobody desires to return shut and he has to cross alone [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

Muheez Abdusalam, 18, is a visually impaired grammar college scholar in Ibadan. He additionally has an unpaid internship at a radio station.

In 2018, Muheez’s father died, so the household now depends on the meagre earnings from his mom’s small grocery store in addition to cash often given to him by his boss on the radio station.

Before the lockdown, Muheez used to maneuver round with the assistance of a mobility stick which enabled him to really feel his approach whereas he was strolling and to keep away from obstacles. But at troublesome spots, comparable to highway crossings, he must depend on strangers to assist him.

Right earlier than the pandemic struck, his strolling stick stopped working when a connecting wire inside it snapped and he had no cash to exchange it. And, now, due to the danger of catching COVID and the accompanying social-distancing guidelines, nobody desires to carry his hand to information him throughout the highway.

“It has been more difficult for people to assist me these times,” he says. “The first thing most of them do the moment they hear you say ‘Please’ is to run. Nobody wants to hear what next you have to say.”

The difficulties he now faces in making an attempt to get help has led to him risking his life on the roads.

“Recently, I wanted to get someplace that required me to cross two lanes of the specific highway. I used to be rooted to a spot for greater than half-hour as a result of no one wished to help the blind boy.

“I summoned the courage to cross by myself without any form of assistance. When I couldn’t bear it any more, I dashed across the first part of the road, paused, and thanked God while asking him to take me through the next part. It was God that saw me through. I could have died.”

During the lockdown from March to July final 12 months, Muheez struggled to get to his internship on the radio station. The 45-minute journey now takes for much longer as a result of he has to spend so lengthy crossing the roads. He gave up after 4 months of making an attempt to make the commute with out help. But staying at house, as all Nigerians have been suggested to do by the federal government, has put him in dire financial straits.

“You asked me to stop hustling to avoid contracting the disease, that is appreciated. But you should also realise that staying at home without anyone to fetch me a kobo [the smallest coin, equal to one-hundredth of a naira] is unrealistic. So, I have to go out.”

For a time through the pandemic, Muheez couldn’t even afford to purchase a protecting masks to put on outdoors, he says. “The provision of protective gears should also be looked into. It is not enough to continue to say ‘Protect yourself, protect yourself.’ Do something to help us achieve that.”

Raheem Yusuf Olatunji: ‘People sneeze onto your head’

As a wheelchair consumer, Raheem Yusuf Olatunji has to put on a cap always as a result of individuals are inclined to cough and sneeze over his head [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

While many of the official recommendation through the pandemic has directed individuals to put on a face masks and to scrub their fingers or sanitise, this will not be sufficient to maintain Raheem, 32, protected.

Raheem, who lives in Bodija, Ibadan, survived polio on the age of three and now depends on a wheelchair to get round. For him, it can be crucial not solely to put on a masks but additionally one thing to cowl his head.

“Whenever I go out, which is not often, I wear a cap in addition to the mask. If someone standing above me sneezes or coughs, it does not come straight down to me. The cap can take that,” Raheem explains.

As somebody who has had polio, which can also be attributable to a virus, Raheem has been warned that he could also be extra inclined to different viruses like COVID-19.

“Whether one has survived any condition or not, the best thing that you can do is to avoid any disease which may likely worsen one’s health condition,” he says. This implies that he has to be further cautious, utilizing a sanitiser to scrub his wheelchair each time anybody touches it.

Through his firm, Yutex Entertainment, Raheem works as a social entrepreneur who promotes, manages and invests in PwDs within the leisure business – many are poets, writers, comedians and actors. His enterprise is struggling as a result of concert events, performs and different occasions the place his shoppers would possibly carry out have principally been cancelled on account of pandemic guidelines which ban gatherings of greater than 50 individuals.

To make a little bit more money on the facet, he additionally runs a shoe-making enterprise. But the variety of prospects for that enterprise has dwindled through the pandemic and he has to be cautious about going out to purchase supplies for it anyway.

“There is reduction in the level of patronage because of the poverty in the land,” he says. “What people care for now is what they want to eat. They are still managing [with] their old shoes, very few are making new shoes… I don’t risk my life hunting for materials [in the markets] because I don’t know who has the virus.”

Raheem worries that PwDs will change into extra remoted from society because of this. “You can only depend on yourself to do some daily tasks because if the person assisting you is infected, they might unintentionally pass the virus to you.”

Abimbola Okikijesu: ‘We are human beings as well’

Abimbola Okikijesu, who has albinism, has misplaced the overwhelming majority of her enterprise as a self-employed caterer due to the pandemic [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

On a traditional day, Abimbola Okikijesu, who has albinism and is in her 30s, works as a self-employed caterer and occasions planner in Ibadan. When she goes outdoors, she should put on sunscreen and sun shades to guard her pores and skin, which lacks melanin, and her eyes from injury the solar could cause.

Days earlier than the lockdown was formally introduced, she had landed a job making a cake for a birthday celebration.

However, with the lockdown in place, alongside with strict limitations on gatherings, the occasion was cancelled. Even after the lockdown was lifted in July 2020, enterprise didn’t return to regular and now she has misplaced most of her earnings.

When Okikijesu heard that meals provisions have been being distributed by the Oyo state authorities to PwDs and others in want at an orphanage in Ibadan, she went to see if she might get some.

She says what she discovered there was chaos. Many of the greater than 100 individuals who turned up left empty-handed, she says.

She believes the federal government has not taken the wants of PwDs individuals into consideration.

The umbrella affiliation that represents PwDs in Nigeria is the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD), an advocacy group and charitable basis. It has native branches throughout the nation. However, there are additionally smaller charitable organisations that take care of the wants of individuals based mostly on their specific incapacity.

“For me, since there are associations responsible for each type of PWDs, the government should have gone through the associations [to distribute assistance],” Okikijesu displays.

“This is the absence of inclusion. They see people that are ‘whole’ as the only people that deserve their attention while neglecting those with disabilities. Let them begin to see us. Let them identify with us. We are human beings as well.”

Ifeoma: ‘My dreams of walking again are on hold’

Ifeoma makes use of a wheelchair due to a spinal damage. When she fell and broke her arm at house, the physician instructed her she ought to are inclined to it herself because it was too harmful to go to the COVID-ridden hospital [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

Ifeoma, a college scholar in her 30s, is a spinal damage survivor. She doesn’t need to give her household title as a result of, she says, a lot of her former college pals within the japanese a part of Nigeria the place she used to review are nonetheless unaware of her incapacity. Ifeoma says she feels uncomfortable with the considered individuals figuring out in regards to the hardship she is going through. She has needed to transfer from her house in japanese Nigeria to Ibadan, the place she is receiving medical care at University College Hospital (UCH).

After an operation at UCH in 2015 to appropriate a spinal protrusion, Ifeoma might not stroll. Her mom moved with her to Ibadan for therapy however, quickly after, suffered a stroke and needed to return house the place she is bedridden. Now, Ifeoma lives with her 15-year-old nephew who helps take care of her by doing housekeeping, operating errands and fetching water.

Ifeoma had physiotherapy for 2 years after her operation. Then she was instructed she would want extra physiotherapy to enhance her possibilities of with the ability to stroll once more. She was seven months into an extra two-year course when the pandemic hit. The periods are costly at about 22,000 naira (about $53) every, and the taxi experience prices an extra 14,000 naira ($32). The medical doctors say that if she will be able to full her physiotherapy she stands an excellent likelihood of regaining the usage of each her legs.

But the pandemic has put her physiotherapy, and due to this fact her desires of strolling once more, on maintain. The hospital she attends was flagged as a COVID hotspot early on within the pandemic and the physiotherapy unit was closed down. Even if it had not been, Ifeoma says, she wouldn’t need to go to the hospital and threat catching COVID there.

“I have not gone to the hospital again since this whole thing began. I do not go out as often as I used to. My immune system is also low and if I am exposed, I can be infected easily,” she says.

During the lockdown from April to July 2020, Ifeoma, who depends on a wheelchair to maneuver round, fell down in her home and broke her arm.

“When I called the doctor, he told me that I should try and think on what I can do on my own to deal with the broken arm. I could not go to the hospital because of the pandemic. When the pain was becoming unbearable, someone introduced me to a doctor in another private hospital who came to my aid.” The physician visited her house to set the break and, 14 days later, returned to take away the caste. Thankfully, her arm has since mended.

Before the lockdown, Ifeoma says she was about to begin an events-planning enterprise; she had printed posters and began to place the phrase out about it. But when the lockdown occurred, all the things floor to a halt.

“It affected me a lot, affecting even my mental health, there are times when I’ve thought of ending it all,” she says. “Sometime last week, it was some form of war. I became really tired, broke and bored. Something kept telling me to do it. Even my nephew was suspecting that as he would always ask, ‘Why are you so silent?’ I will tell him nothing.”

Ifeoma says she has solely acquired assist from ladies working for a non-governmental organisation who came visiting her. They gave her meals and a few cash and changed her broken wheelchair.

“It is just the thought of my mother that has kept me going,” she says.

Raji Ade Oba: ‘I was arrested because I couldn’t hear the principles’

Raji Ade Oba, who’s deaf, couldn’t hear the announcement of a curfew on the radio. He was arrested and brought to the police station after leaving his house [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

“The deaf person does not know if a hammer is coming behind him. Even if someone shouts to the deaf man to run, he does not hear and does not know what to do,” says Raji Ade Oba, a 35-year-old researcher and instructor.

He stresses the significance of social media messaging relating to advising individuals about new guidelines through the pandemic.

When the lockdown began in March, curfews have been imposed in several elements of Nigeria and introduced on the radio. But Ade Oba hadn’t heard them. So, when he left his home to go for a brief stroll in his neighbourhood, he didn’t realise it was underneath curfew.

“I virtually bought knocked down by one of many cops from behind. I used to be arrested and manhandled, earlier than being taken to the police station the place I allow them to know that I’m a particular wants particular person, that I used to be unaware of the curfew on the time.

“Well you wouldn’t blame them, I did not write ‘deaf man’ on the back of my clothes. There is no way they could have known. My own disability is not visible,” he says.

“It was God that saved me that day. Nobody cares whether everybody has access to whatever information they pass around, but to them, everybody is a lawbreaker. How could I have been killed over a law I had no prior access to? Over a law nobody wants to hear you broke unintentionally? I almost got lynched.”

With the curfews additionally got here financial hardship; his work dried up whereas his spouse, a businesswoman, was unable to go outdoors to work throughout lockdown. Even although he has been instructed to register with the Nigeria National Association for the Deaf (NNAD) to obtain palliative assist, none has been delivered to any associations for PwDs but.

“The reality is we will not proceed to rely upon authorities that hardly exhibits up for us always. The solely physique that may vouch for you when oppression and these social exclusion issues start to set in, is your individual affiliation.

“So, what I expected was the government should have met with leaders of PwD groups to let them understand what exactly is going on in this world of COVID-19.”

By doing this, Ade Oba believes, they might not solely have understood what their wants are, but additionally the best way to meet them.

If you reside in Nigeria and also you or someone you understand wants assist, please contact the next organisations: 

Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD)

Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI)

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Updated on April 21, 2021 8:54 pm

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