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Assessment shows persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe experience severe impact of COVID-19

The UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa  conducted a Rapid Assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on Persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe from August to November 2020, which  found out that persons with disabilities have  experienced many challenges brought about and/or worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdown and containment measures. 

Persons with disabilities and representatives from Organisations that represent them were the primary research population targeted by the assessment. Their views and stories form the core of the findings. 

The assessment found out that due to lockdown regulations, the livelihoods of persons with disabilities have been negatively affected resulting in other social ills such as anxiety and increase in gender-based violence mainly faced by women and girls with disabilities. The study findings confirmed the hypothesis that the wellbeing of persons with disabilities has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the lockdown measures, as stated by the United Nations Policy Brief -A Disability Inclusive Response to COVID-19, released in May 2020.

Access to services such as healthcare, education, justice, accessible information have been severely affected by the lockdown restrictions put in place to reduce the spreading of the coronavirus. The banning of informal livelihood activities such as vending and begging has led to persons with disabilities experiencing acute challenges, as their sources of income have been disrupted. According to the study, income per month for persons with disabilities in the sample shrunk by 50% from ZW 2160.00 (US$43) per month pre-COVID-19 to ZW1080.00 (US$13) per month during COVID-19 period. This is against a poverty datum line of ZW 17957.00 (US$219) per month for a family of five.

Access to food and nutrition has been severely affected. Food aid from government, humanitarian organizations, churches, civil society organizations and individuals has been reduced, as a result of COVID-19 and lockdown measures having disrupted business operations. While government provides free medical services to registered persons with disabilities, drugs are in short supply in designated healthcare centers and the data shows that not all deserving persons with disabilities are accessing the services during the COVID-19 period. The study reveals that the number of meals for persons with disabilities nationally have been reduced from three (3) pre-COVID-19, to one (1) or two (2) during COVID-19.

Women and girls with disabilities experience challenges accessing Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services, a challenge that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Due to lockdown measures which have been put in place due to COVID-19 pandemic, I cannot go to the clinic to access Sexual Reproductive Health services. Not being able to access SRH services as women, I can say this has worsened our conditions as compared to man.
Female respondent with a disability

A 30-yeart old male respondent from Harare bemoaned the inability to be mobile since has no expmetion letters to travel. 

Since the lockdown due to COVID-19, life has become so difficult because buses have been banned to do city to city travel and I cannot beg on buses like I used to do to sustain my livelihood. These days I have to beg in other people’s homes so that I get something to eat.
Respondent with visual impairment

Access to COVID-19 information in accessible formats for persons with various disabilities is another challenge. While 65% of the persons interviewed admitted they have received regular information, 82% found the information received not really useful.

Emphasis is put on social distancing, yet it is difficult for persons with visual impairment to do so, and there is no information about COVID-19 which is in braille format yet that’s one of the formats which persons with disabilities have to use.
51-year-old respondent from Manicaland with difficulty seeing

This also points to the new challenges faced by persons with disabilities and their caregivers in keeping physical distance.  

There is also increased gender based violence and sexual gender based violence against women and girls as revealed by the study. 19.1% of the respondents with disabilities indicated that they experienced gender-based violence during the lockdown period.

People see me as vulnerable and weak. Boys and men make love with me pretending they want to marry me and abuse me.
Female respondent from Gutu District, Masvingo

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Zimbabwe indicated that GBV and other forms of abuse have been an area of greater concern towards persons with disabilities since the start of COVID-19. 

The study shows that 79% of the respondents with disabilities are not aware of the government of Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 response plan. It also shows that none of the Organizations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) interviewed were consulted, or participated in the planning of the national response plan, and neither have they been involved in the response plan implementation structures and processes, bringing into question the inclusiveness of the response. However DPOs have adapted their operations to continue to deliver the basic services to persons with disabilities during the lockdown period.

Considering the multiple types of disabilities and intersectional vulnerabilities, the study suggests that access to services differs by disability type, gender and the rural to urban divide. Looking ahead, the study provides 24 recommendations across 11 domains that include Livelihoods, Gender Equality, Food and Nutrition, Access to Healthcare, Inclusive Education, and Information, Participation in the National Response Planning, etc. These recommendations are of particular relevance as the country has gone back into a strict lockdown since 2 January 2021, as positive cases are spiking. 

The research was conduted with support of the "Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future" (O3) programme and the United Nations Partnership for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) project on advancing the rights of women and girls with disabilities in Zimbabwe.