COVID-19 Vaccines Program – building bridges strengthening partnerships

An elderly person receives a dose of China's COVID-19 vaccine in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 22, 2021. The vaccines were developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech in partnership with the Butantan Institute. (Photo by Lucio Tavora/Xinhua)
An elderly person receives a dose of China's COVID-19 vaccine in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 22, 2021. The vaccines were developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech in partnership with the Butantan Institute. (Photo by Lucio Tavora/Xinhua)

A pandemic hit the World in December 2019, that was identified as the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). Covid-19 is a highly infectious respiratory disease that spreads very fast. It threatens human existence, livelihoods and causes disruption to all economies.

At a point in the world, there was no movement unless under special dispensation. Many lives were lost. In developing countries like Ghana, the pandemic hit hard and the country is still counting its losses.
Most vulnerable and marginalised, especially members of Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations (GFD), who formed over 2.5 million of the country’s over 31 million population were not left out.

Already, members of the GFD complain of not getting better access to health care, employment, education and little or no participation in society’s decision-making.

The World Health Organisation and governments outlined strategies and protocols like handwashing with water and soap, social distancing, wearing of nose masks and lockdowns to control the fast-spreading virus and the adverse impacts it causes.

Their unique situation medically and socially was compounded by these strategies. The likes of Kojo Aboagye Gyebi, 25, who usually got support from friends to move around on the University of Ghana campus, lost that opportunity.
The period was likened to the popular phrase: “Each man for himself, God for us all,” captured in the Oxford dictionary of proverbs.

Everyone was securing their safety first. Kojo’s white cane – a device used by many people who are blind or visually impaired, could only help to an extent.

“There are places you would like to visit for important functions, but it was difficult to make such a journey. We should have been exempted from protocols like social distancing,” Kojo said in an interview with the GNA.
Other persons with disabilities face different challenges in their endeavour.

For Kojo, persons with disabilities were “left behind”, the very phrase the sustainable development goals, the global agenda abhor.

The article 11 (Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities article 11 require government to establish a targeted, sustainable humanitarian emergency framework to ensure the protection of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, and specifically in the context of the public health emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, information gathered by the GNA from Ghana’s COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project-Additional Finance, stakeholders engagement plan indicates that over 20,000 people with disability have received psychosocial support.

The Federation also was supported with wheelchairs, and personal protection equipment to prevent the infection in December 2020.

Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, the Programme Manager, Expanded Programme on Immunisation at the Ghana Health Service, tells the GNA although there were few initial challenges, a strong stakeholders collaboration helped iron out many of the issues. “We collaborated with all stakeholders including the GFD leadership and of the group part of the priority group who were exempted from queuing,” he said.

The Programme Manager says the Federation worked with the Ghana Health Service and Development Partners to undertake activities including the development of timely, targeted messages and shared to members in accessible format.

Ghana’s vaccination campaign, which started on March 2, 2021, has seen about 12 million persons receiving 21 million doses of the vaccine out of which nine million people are recorded to have been fully vaccinated.

The vaccines are Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Sputnik V. Madam Rita Kusi, the Executive Director of Ghana Federation of Person with Disabilities confirmed to the GNA that the Ministry of Health involved them comprehensively in the COVID-19 programme.

She explains that key members of the Federation were engaged during critical decision-making regarding the COVID-19 programme and were involved in the implementation.

Madam Kusi explains that technical staff of the Federation were given the opportunity to offer some introductory training for frontline health workers and psychologists on how to attend to persons with disabilities. “Many of our members were apprehensive in the heat of the pandemic. The training was to help the psychologists to orient them about how to put their minds at rest, prepare them for the vaccination programme and motivate them to normalcy,” she said.

The Executive Director says through the collaboration of the Federation, mobile vaccination centres were setup at vantage points to facilitate the vaccination of members.

Through the partnership, she says a number of its members have been registered with the National Health Insurance Scheme and that, more would get the opportunity to be enrolled in the scheme in the next phase.

Notwithstanding the strong partnership, Madam Kusi wants a well thought out protocol established for persons with disabilities to protect them during emergencies and pandemics. “Institutional collaborations are good but sometimes, suffer setbacks, however, a legally binding protocol will ensure that resources and other logistics are released on time to PWDs,” she added.

The responses from Mr Gyebi, Dr Amponsa-Achiano, Madam Kusi, points to the fact that inclusivity of persons with disabilities can be enhanced using the recent COVID-19 partnership between GFD and the Ministry of Health as a blueprint for the propose national emergency protocol.

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