How to stop “Discrimination” in the Corona era! a call by Public policy scholars.

Addressing discrimination and inequality in the global response to COVID-19

In the short time since the start of this new decade, life has changed dramatically across the world. COVID-19 has now spread to more than 185 countries. The number of recorded cases has surpassed 3.5 million. Families and friends across the globe are mourning the loss of more than 240,000 people. With the stated intention of controlling the spread of the virus and protecting lives, States are implementing unprecedented restrictions on movement both within and between countries (“lockdowns”), with significant and wide-ranging impacts on societies and economies.  

As these measures have taken effect, it has become clear that, while the virus is indiscriminate, the impacts of state responses are not. In late April, launching a new report, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres stated that the pandemic is a public health emergency “that is fast becoming a human rights crisis”. As that UN report highlights, there is clear and growing evidence that state responses in delivery of healthcare, in the implementation of lockdown measures and in policies designed to mitigate economic impacts are having disproportionate and discriminatory impacts. These effects are being experienced by all groups exposed to discrimination, including, but not limited to, older persons, children, persons with disabilities, women, ethnic and religious minorities and indigenous peoples, persons, persons living with HIV and AIDS, and migrants, refugees and stateless persons. They are impacting upon the enjoyment of rights ranging from freedom of movement to access to education and from access to information to an adequate standard of living, together, of course, with the rights to life and to health. 

These discriminatory impacts are occurring despite the fact that almost every State in the world has accepted international legal obligations to ensure the equal enjoyment of human rights, without discrimination. At a bare minimum, these obligations require that the State – whether through law, policy or practice – does not discriminate in its actions. They also create a duty to provide effective protection from all forms of discrimination by private actors and to make reasonable accommodation when required. These obligations apply to all: citizen and non-citizen, irrespective of their identity, status or beliefs. They are “immediate and cross-cutting”. They apply in respect of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Crucially, while international law recognises that in states of emergency, States can limit the enjoyment of certain human rights, their obligations to ensure nondiscrimination remain – emergency measures must not discriminate either in their purpose or their effects.

As this unprecedented global crisis unfolds, it is clear that States are failing to meet their nondiscrimination obligations. Their responses – largely driven by a stated intention to protect lives – are having a wide range of discriminatory impacts. While many of these effects may be unintended, the lack of intent does not limit States’ obligations. Moreover, with new evidence emerging each week, it is clear that we cannot yet foresee the full range of discriminatory impacts which this crisis will engender. 

State obligations to assess and address equality impacts

We call on all States to incorporate equality impact assessment as an integral element of their ongoing public health, economic and social policy responses to the crisis. It is only through assessing the equality impacts of their policy responses that States can ensure that their actions comply with their binding non-discrimination obligations under international law. Equality impact assessment is the only way that States can anticipate and eliminate the discriminatory effects of their policy responses, including those which are unintended or unforeseen.

Equality impact assessments must be aimed at identifying and eliminating the actual or potential discriminatory effects of State policies. They should also ensure that policies and programmes respond to and accommodate the different needs of diverse groups with due consideration to intersectionality and that they do not create or exacerbate inequality. 

In order to ensure that States comply with their international legal obligations, equality impact assessments should be pre-emptive, coming before new policy measures are adopted and before any changes are made to policies which are already in force. Where measures have already been adopted, equality impact assessment should be undertaken as an urgent priority. Where discriminatory impacts are identified, measures to eliminate any discrimination or inequality of impact should be taken with immediate effect. States must ensure that they involve and consult all groups at risk of discrimination and experiencing inequality in conducting equality impact assessment. States must ensure that equality impact assessment is an essential element of their monitoring and review of policy responses to the pandemic and of their on the ground effects. Both initial assessments and ongoing monitoring must be informed by the collection of data on the experiences and outcomes of groups exposed to discrimination

All policy responses to the crisis must be subject to assessment, including those relating to the management of healthcare and other resources, the restriction of civil liberties, closure of businesses and educational establishments, adaptation of support services, economic and social protection programmes, immigration and border control and the use of new information technologies. The actual or potential equality impacts of actions by both state and private actors must be assessed.  

A renewed commitment to the creation of an equal world

Furthermore, we call on all States to emerge from the current crisis with a renewed commitment to the elimination of all forms of discrimination and the creation of a world in which all are “free and equal in dignity and rights”. The wide range of unintended discriminatory consequences of state responses to the crisis – ranging from the increased exposure to the virus amongst ethnic minority populations to the rise in domestic violence – only serve to underline the deep inequalities within our societies and the failure to address the systemic discrimination which feeds them. 

This crisis has shone a harsh and unforgiving light on these existing inequalities. We must emerge from it ready to forge a world in which all can participate equally. Arundhati Roy has described this pandemic as a portal, “a gateway between one world and the next”. We call on States to ensure that we walk through this portal leaving no one behind, and with a shared determination to create an equal world.

Hope beyond COVID-19 Author Mugambi Paul

Africans with disabilities are largely left out of the African governments. coronavirus response despite being uniquely affected by the disease, as discussed by the international disability alliance, several disability experts and Views expressed in different social media platforms.

 

Palpably, The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our daily lives, but its impacts are especially acute for disabled persons, who may

struggle with challenges like finding reliable and safe in-home care or physically adapting to enhanced hand-washing guidance.

But the coronavirus outbreak has also created opportunities for more equitable inclusion after the pandemic ends.

How might the pandemic disturb those who have disabilities?

For disabled persons, all the general challenges that come with the pandemic certainly apply, but there are additional barriers. The first is communication—getting

information can be more difficult for people with vision, hearing, and even cognitive disabilities, as popular news sources may not be accessible, especially

when information is changing quickly. I’m Blind and can attest to that. Keeping all of us informed is key to the COVID-19 public health response,

but information is not always accessible to the disability community, for instance data visual charts are not understood.

The second barrier involves adopting recommended public health strategies, such as social distancing and washing hands. For example, frequent hand-washing

is not always feasible for people with certain types of physical disabilities. As a public scholar I know the value of these strategies, but public health

policies often do not consider people with disabilities, leaving a gap in guidance. Those who have personal aides like sighted guides for Deaf blind and Blind individuals, and caregivers also need to be considered,

as they cannot participate in social distancing in the same way that others are.

The third, equitable access to health care, is a long-standing barrier worsened by COVID-19. This ranges from getting a coronavirus test to being seen

in an emergency room. For instance, drive-up testing may be impossible if you rely on state mobility services. There are also existing barriers in health

care settings that are exacerbated as the industry aims to meet the surge of COVID-19 cases. For example, the use of personal protective equipment, including

masks, can make communication more difficult for patients with hearing loss.

Additionally, the allocation of medical resources is a concern. There’s fear that medical resource allocation, including ventilators, may be discriminatory

against patients with disabilities. In Europe and united states of America some organization of persons with disabilities and human rights bodies have filed complains about these rationing policies. This issue echoes an underlying misconception

that people with disabilities can’t have a high quality of life and therefore the lives of disabled people may not be prioritized.

What lessons can African government learn from inclusion in Corona response for disabled persons?

in some countries, there has been a shift toward telehealth for nonurgent medical visits. That has provided challenges but also future

opportunities for the disability sector. We must ensure that telehealth visits are accessible to patients with vision or hearing loss or other disabilities

in order to maintain equity in health care delivery. If accessibility is prioritized as we make this change, a transition to telehealth could open the

door to a more accessible health care system.

Several studies have underpinned, THE ISSUES OF PRE-PANDEMIC CARE DELIVERY ONLY BECOME MORE URGENT IN A TIME OF CRISIS BECAUSE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES HAVE OFTEN NOT BEEN CONSIDERED IN

A DISASTER OR PANDEMIC PLANNING.

While there’s a lot of pressure and certainly a high demand to meet the COVID-19 surge, it is still crucial to make sure that the organizations of persons with disabilities and disability experts

is being considered. It’s truly a remarkable and challenging moment for African health system, but the needs of the disability community can’t fall through

the cracks. The issues of pre-pandemic care delivery only become more urgent in a time of crisis because people with disabilities have often not been considered

in a disaster or pandemic planning. We need to learn from this crisis and ensure disability is part of future pandemic planning.

For those in the disability community who require in-home care or essential services when away from home, what steps can be taken to minimize the risk

of spreading the coronavirus while still receiving necessary care and assistance?

People who use in-home support care need to make sure that they have contingency plans for their care needs in case a caregiver becomes ill. Caregivers and community

organizations should also consider changing their staffing to the best of their ability in order to minimize spread. For instance, instead of three rotating

caregivers being assigned to an individual, assign one for a longer period of time. For people with a primary caregiver in the home, more flexibility in

paid time off or sick leave can minimize exposure while also meeting the care needs of the individual. What’s really important is to engage the individual

and the disability community at the policy level.

Furthermore, MANY disabled persons ARE AT HIGH RISK OF COVID-19, BUT THEIR PERSPECTIVE IS NOT BEING INCLUDED IN THE EFFORTS TO ADDRESS INEQUITIES IN THE RESPONSE.

For instance, most Kenyan policy directives are not disability inclusive.

 

In a moment when many providers have had to alter their operations due to the pandemic, what are ways to advocate for essential services and treatment

for the disability community?

The best approach is to ensure that whenever we’re talking about inequity or differences in the COVID-19 response, disability is part of the discussion.

Many people with disabilities are at high risk of COVID-19, but their perspective is not being included in the efforts to address inequities in the response.

This includes understanding the unique challenges of this community during this crisis.

We also need disability data. There is currently no systematic reporting of COVID-19 testing, infection, mortality, or outcomes by disability status.

This is evident by the daily media updates from different countries.

For example, in east Africa important differences in this data by age, geographic location, underlying health condition, estate location and race have emerged. These data have been

critical for allocating resources and directing policies, as well as highlighting underlying disparities and elevating discussions around these health

gaps. But for people with disabilities, an often-ignored health disparity population, we don’t even get counted. And this is not just the case for COVID-19.

Disability data is infrequently collected in this type of public health and medical surveillance, which limits opportunities to address disability inequities.

As a public policy scholar and expert on diversity and inclusion I affirm and recommend the data being reported should be 15 % or more are persons with disabilities “WHO 2011”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what impact and legacy do you think it will have for those living with disabilities?

I’m an optimistic person, and though it can be hard to think positively right now, there is an opportunity to change how we include people with disabilities

in this moment. COVID-19 has elevated that conversation, and the legacy should be a continued focus on disability disparities and constant efforts to address

disability inequities.

As we all make substantial changes in our daily lives, such as working from home and adjusting how we connect to others, look to people with disabilities

for guidance, as we have always used alternative strategies. We are the vanguards of resilience. My hope is that COVID-19 will bring more understanding,

inclusion, and opportunity to the African disability community.

 

The views expressed here are for the author and do not represent any agency or organization.

 Mugambi Paul is a public policy, diversity, inclusion and sustainability expert.

Australian Chief Minister Award winner

“excellence of making inclusion happen”