Sightsavers and its partners are continuing to work with 16 district hospital partners to respond to the needs of visually impaired people, including awareness messaging and with outpatient departments – which are not included in lockdown – to ensure emergency services are available to those who need them, particularly people with disabilities. By early May, 7,000 people with visual impairments had received services. Sightsavers staff are also delivering important messages to those in need of services over the phone.
Sightsavers’ Bangladesh country staff have communicated with the partners and encouraged them to ensure safety of the patients, staff and doctors. They suggested keeping hand sanitiser, providing masks to patients, making sure they wash their hands with soap on entry to the hospital, and imposing more stringent cleaning routines. Sightsavers Bangladesh is currently working with UK office to allocate funds to support the partners during the pandemic.
One person who has been hit hard is Khorshed Alom, whose sons have been unable to work, leaving them without food and medication.
Mr Alom said: “Before the lockdown started, my sons and were somehow maintaining our three meals a day. And to keep my diabetes under control I used to go out for a walk every day in the morning and evening. But since the beginning of the lockdown I am unable to go anywhere due to which my health condition is getting critical gradually.
“I am grateful to Sightsavers for at least they have contacted us and wanted to know about our wellbeing at this difficult time.” More from Bangladesh
Researcher Tosin Adekeye and our partners through the Countdown project are testing remote training for peer-researchers in participatory methods, in order to learn about people with neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Participatory research involves peer-researchers – people from the community or those with experience of the issue (in this case people with skin NTDs) – gathering data rather than external researchers. Training the peer-researchers is a highly important step and usually involves face-to-face meetings, but the current climate has forced our researchers to explore alternative ways of doing this training so that the research can continue and can be as participatory as possible.
In this case, the peer-researchers are being trained to use the ‘Photovoice’ methodology. This involves them taking photographs in their communities to describe their experiences and how these relate to their wellbeing. These photos are followed up with a discussion about the context they were taken in and what they represent. Some of the photos are selected to be explored further within groups and shared in research workshops, in order to develop solutions to identified challenges and to raise awareness of issues described.
Countdown is an implementation research project set in four African countries (Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon and Ghana) selected due to their varying points in NTD control and elimination. The collaboration in Nigeria includes the federal and state ministries of health, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Sightsavers.
For more information about the Photovoice method, read the blog on the Countdown website.
Also in Nigeria, many people with disabilities have been missing out on vital government messaging during the crisis. In Sightsavers’ Nigeria office, Rasak Adekoya, Sightsavers programme officer for our disability inclusion employment programme Inclusion Works, contacted the government to ensure that public health messages on TV included a sign language interpreter for those with hearing impairments. More from Nigeria
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the living conditions of people with disabilities, and they are facing significant challenges. The response to COVID-19 has further highlighted that people with disabilities are often forgotten, and that women with disabilities in particular are most disadvantaged.
Sightsavers’ team based in Jharkhand has taken part in discussions with our partners and the government to try and meet the needs of people with disabilities during the pandemic.
As medical support is supplied, we have been able to identify 160 people with disabilities who required immediate food support. We have also provided online training sessions for the leaders of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) on COVID-19 awareness and rights. DPO leaders are also keeping in mobile phone contact with women with disabilities who don’t have access to a smartphone or the internet, to share information and make sure their needs are being met.
State teams have recorded audio messages in the local language using information on COVID-19 from the ministry of health and family welfare. We are using an identification system called the UIDAI to identify people with disabilities who are particularly vulnerable to the virus and, along with our partners, are helping to distribute food and masks to those in need.
Self help groups of women with disabilities in some states are making masks on a large scale and supplying these to local government and other groups. This is in many cases a voluntary effort to contribute to the response and in some cases supporting income generation during this time. You can read more about two hard working women who are helping in their communities here. More from India
Magatte, a teacher at a disability-inclusive school in Dakar, who supports four visually impaired students, has been going above and beyond to ensure they are not excluded.
The Senegalese government has made some innovative approaches to meet the education gap during this time, including online courses, educational radio programmes and distance learning. But Magatte says that many of these activities exclude children with disabilities.
“I was very surprised to see that children with disabilities have not yet got their share of the pie regarding the continuity of education,” he says. “The existing learning environments tie up with mainstream schools. The education authorities should not lose of sight the fact that children with disabilities have specific educational needs quite different from what is being offered so far.”
Sightsavers is working with the Directorate of Primary Education in Senegal to set up an adapted distance learning approach via WhatsApp, with a focus on children with disabilities. Sessions are held to help students improve their academic performance, particularly for those who are preparing for exams.
Magatte is hopeful that the WhatsApp sessions will meet at least some of the needs of his four visually impaired students, as well as other children with disabilities in the community. “This alternative learning pathway is very practical,” he says. “The children with disabilities and their parents are very enthusiastic of this initiative. We all appreciate it.” More from Senegal