Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries of the world, announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in March 2020. Since then, the number of infections has increased exponentially. The COVID-19 impact is felt not only on the national economy but also on the household economy of millions of Bangladeshis.
The country has already started to witness its devastating impact. Hunger, malnutrition, and many other socio-economic problems that Bangladesh has been able to deal with successfully are now poised to intensify. Daily wage earners are badly hit; a large number of people have nothing to live on and are unable to buy food for their families. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has brought untold suffering for people with disabilities living in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is home to a huge number of people with disabilities – although unfortunately there is no specific data showing the exact number. The 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey showed that nearly 6.94 per cent of the population was made up of people with disabilities (more than 11 million people), but the World Health Organization estimates that it is likely to be closer to 15 per cent.
Whatever the number, one thing is quite evident: people with disabilities are some of the people most affected by COVID-19. They face multiple layers of deprivation during this period with shrinking economic activities and fear of hunger. Support provided by the government and others is not easily accessible. The International Labor Organization has reported that the risk in the response to the current crisis is that people with disabilities will be left behind once again. A report on ‘Covid-19 Impact on Vulnerable Groups: People with Disabilities’ by Innovision, a research based non-governmental organisation, shows that 74 per cent of people with disabilities in Bangladesh have lost all of their income sources. The report also says that people with disabilities are at risk of suffering from severe malnutrition as they are struggling to manage their daily meals.
Sightsavers is the Secretariat of the Bangladesh Disability Alliance on SDGs, a platform of 22 organisations working to promote disability rights in Bangladesh. Under the leadership of Sightsavers, the Alliance identified several factors placing people with disabilities at increased risk during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Sightsavers has identified a number of focus areas for influencing the government and donor agencies to take adequate measures, protecting people with disabilities from the short-term and long-term adverse impacts of COVID-19.
The problems and unimaginable suffering of people with disabilities in Bangladesh will intensify further if mitigating measures are not taken immediately. We must come forward to make our policies and actions inclusive and help those in need. Otherwise, COVID-19 will leave people with disabilities behind once again.
Ayon is Sightsavers’ advocacy and inclusion officer for the Inclusion Works employment programme, based in Bangladesh.
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