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Locked down and left behind: COVID disrupted lives of the disabled more, finds st

 

 

IIPH-Hyderabad surveyed 403 persons with disabilities in 14 States from Oct. 2020 to Dec. 2021

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has barely left any section unaffected, but people with disabilities are among those whose lives were disrupted more than others. This finding is part of a study taken up by the Indian Institute of Public Health-Hyderabad (IIPH-H), which suggests that 82% of disabled persons reported moderate to severe stress levels, 59% could not access rehabilitation services and 58% faced difficulty in accessing routine health services.

 

The ‘Strategic Analysis of Impact of COVID-19 on Persons with Disabilities in India’ was taken up based on a survey to assess the level of disruption on the living conditions of persons with disabilities due to the pandemic and related restrictions, and also to generate evidence to inform actions for future pandemics or emergency preparedness. These were shared recently by the IIPH-Hyderabad Director G.V.S. Murthy.

About 403 respondents from 14 States were included in the study with the median age of persons with disabilities being 28 years. Among them, 51.6% had physical impairments, 16.1% had visual impairments, 10.9% intellectual impairments and 9.2% had speech and hearing impairment.

Overall, 42.5% respondents reported that the lockdown made it difficult for them to access routine medical care. Among those with a pre-existing medical condition (which was 12.7%), nearly 58% had difficulty in accessing routine medical care. Nearly a quarter reported difficulty in getting their medications and 28% reported postponing their scheduled medical appointments.

More than half perceived that continuous lockdown would have a deleterious effect on their health, 35% needed out-patient services during lockdown but 55.6% had difficulty accessing the same; 16.6% needed emergency medical care, of whom 45% had difficulty accessing it.

About 35.7% needed medicines during the lockdown, and 46% faced problems in getting them. About 58% of those who needed regular blood pressure monitoring and a third needing sugar monitoring could not get it done. Of the respondents requiring a surgical procedure, 47.6% could not get access to services due to the lockdown.

Among the 17% needing rehabilitation services, 59.4% could not access the same. Fear of getting infected with COVID-19 and loss of income were frequently reported with 81.6% experiencing moderate to high levels of stress. Stigma, discrimination and effect on family relationships were the leading psycho-social problems, along with fear of isolation, abandonment and violence.

Only 25.9% had access to information on mental health services, 20% were able to get regular mental health counselling and 11.4% had problems getting their regular psychiatric medicines. Half of the caregivers felt moderately stressed caring for children/ family member with disability while 58.2% were unhappy that therapy sessions had stopped during lockdown.

This study was funded by CBM India Trust, and Humanity & Inclusion (HI) and conducted in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra and Delhi between October 2020 and December 2021.

Majority had to borrow money

Daily Living Activities: About 84.2% stated that their daily lives had been impacted; for 34.3% even drinking water supplies were affected, pensions were affected for 33.1%, almost all (98.4%) had to borrow money during lockdown and 61.9% had to borrow or request for support for food.

During COVID: Although rice was provided by the government, vegetables and pulses were difficult to come by. Access to medicines was difficult mainly due to travel restrictions in their region, communication was badly affected and NGOs were unable to reach persons with disabilities seeking health services or consultations, as their needs were not given adequate attention when guidelines on COVID-19 response were released.

Post Lockdown: While stigma and discrimination had reduced significantly after easing of restrictions started, the stress persisted. With regard to education, livelihood, and social empowerment, there was no statistically significant difference in proportions before and after easing of lockdown. That could be because of continued restrictions in many regions. Around 73% still hesitated to go to hospital because of fear of contracting COVID and 86% feared going out to meet others. It was observed that the public health system was concentrating only on COVID-19, to the determinant of other health conditions, and raised concerns on the exorbitant costs being charged by hospitals.