UP Centre for Human Rights joins global partners on COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitoring initiative

Posted on June 05, 2020

Evidence has emerged which shows emergency measures being taken by governments worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic are not as inclusive as they need to be. According to recent surveys, persons with disabilities are being disproportionately affected by these measures.

Many countries are failing to adopt disability-inclusive responses to the pandemic, and to guarantee protections for fundamental rights to life, health, safety, information, and support as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

An internationally coordinated Disability Rights Monitoring initiative has been created to better understand the depths of this issue. The Centre for Human Rights (CHR) at the University of Pretoria (UP) has joined forces with six other disability rights organisations to conduct rapid, online independent monitoring of state measures concerning persons with disabilities.

Other institutions involved in the initiative include the Validity Foundation, the European Network on Independent Living, the International Disability Alliance, Disability Rights International, and the International Disability and Development Consortium. The initiative was endorsed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr Dainius Pūras, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ms Catalina Devandas Aguilar, and the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ms Ikponwosa Ero.

As part of this global monitoring initiative, two surveys have been developed requesting official information from governments, and the testimonies of persons with disabilities as well as their representative organisations. The surveys aim to collect information about what states are doing to protect core rights of persons with disabilities, including the rights to life, access to health, and essential services during the pandemic.

The two surveys are currently hosted on the website www.covid-drm.org. The website’s dashboard shows how respondents in different countries have responded to the questions in the survey.

Innocentia Mgijima-Konopi, programme manager of the Disability Rights Unit at the CHR, explained that the survey, launched on 15 April, had to date received over 1 600 responses, from 124 countries in 22 languages, and will remain open until 31 July. The initiative is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

“The monitoring will continue for the duration of the pandemic, as long as emergency measures continue to be enforced in countries. The monitoring group plans to adapt the surveys as the trajectory of the pandemic changes and countries start easing the emergency measures and taking new measures to recover. This will enable us to better understand how states are taking into account persons with disabilities in their post COVID-19 recovery measures,” Mgijima-Konopi said.

She added that, once collected, the results from the survey would be made available to the public.

Forty-one South Africans have responded to the survey so far and have raised the issue of various forms of access to services as their primary concern.

  • Respondents identifying as female: 56%
  • Respondents identifying as male: 44%
  • Respondents who are people with disabilities: 18
  • Organisations of people with disabilities: 12
  • Respondents who are family members of people with disabilities: 7
  • Others: 4

Responses from the survey show that whilst a number of respondents were of the view that persons with disabilities in South Africa have equal access to medical treatment for COVID-19, some felt they were excluded and deprived of the treatment. 72% of respondents weren’t sure if access was available or not indicating the need for more inclusive communication from government. When healthcare was accessible, the respondents had two major concerns: Firstly, they were unsure how to access these services during the various lockdown alert levels, and secondly they were unsure whether health staff were trained to handle patients with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.  

Mgijima-Konopi said that extra concerns revealed by the surveys include the fact that 50% of respondents said they experienced a lack of access to food supplies, disability-related therapy and medication, formal and informal assistance and care, monthly grants not being paid timeously, as well as support for emotionally and physically drained families/caregivers.

“Reliable quantitative and qualitative data is instrumental to achieving disability-inclusive COVID-19 response and recovery. The hope is that governments will use this data, in addition to data from other sources, to identify gaps in the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and address those gaps. Disabled people’s organisations will also be able to identify areas where greater advocacy is needed. National human rights institutions can glean possible issues needing urgent attention, and this will also help in their monitoring efforts. When the pandemic is over, we hope to analyse the data and draw lessons, recommendations, and guidelines on how to better protect the rights of persons with disabilities during times of risk and other humanitarian emergencies,” Mgijima-Konopi said.

To find out more about the Disability Rights Monitor visit: https://covid-drm.org/

- Author Masego Panyane and Mgijima-Konopi

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