In March 2021 the Kenyan government released its COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy. The plan prioritized those most likely to be exposed to COVID-19, and importantly those most likely to become ill and die from the disease – a sensible approach, similar to many jurisdictions around the world. Although as usual, the involvement of persons with disabilities and their representatives still remained uncommon in the plans, policies and the representation on the taskforce.
On the listing of prioritization there was no mention of how Kenyans with disabilities would be prioritized.
This negate the fact that persons with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups and are at higher risk of being covid victims.
Are persons with disabilities the most forgotten on Kenyan priorities?
In America uncle Joe in July 2021 gave an executive order of categorizing long term COVID individuals to have a disability. Should Kenya be the first country in Africa to make the pronouncement?
On the other hand, the first doses of vaccine arrived on Kenyan air space on March and most of the highest priority people were to have received at least a first dose by April. The strategy was sound – but you need more than words on a page to make strategy become reality.
Turns out for most of these priority groups, there was no actual plan. Unsurprisingly seven months later with more than 2 million vaccines delivered, many of the most at-risk Kenyans with disabilities, rural communities and the elderly remain unprotected.
International experience shows that persons with disabilities are at significant risk when it comes to COVID-19. In England, where 17 per cent of the population are persons with disabilities, 60 per cent of people who died from COVID-19 had a disability. Persons with disabilities were eight times more likely to die than the general population. Those with Down syndrome were 36 times more likely to die. Furthermore, the rural communities underscores the risk of COVID-19 spreading once community members become infected.
Higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes mean that Kenyans are more likely to die from COVID-19 if they are infected. Additionally, the health systems in rural and remote communities in Kenya are particularly vulnerable to being overwhelmed if there are outbreaks in these communities.
Vaccination rates are slowly increasing rapidly in Kenya, with more than one million Kenyans now fully vaccinated. Will the county and sub counties reach the 10 million targets by ministry of health on December 2021?
I observe in Kenya it seems the country was opened up long time ago, it’s just that it has not been pronounced.
Public vehicles are back to carry in full capacity.
Will this action set a drawback towards the fight against the deadly virus?
But how are vaccinations among priority groups tracking? Most of this data is collected by government but is not reported publicly or transparently. Rather, the information is released piecemeal in media reports, sometimes through leaks to journalists.
It’s a proven fact that the Kenyan government through ministry of health has never desegregated data on disability since the start of the pressers.
It is clear the vaccination priorities set by Kenyan government will not become reality.
Right now, in Kenya we are in full swing election 2022. for many of the Kenyans who are most likely to become seriously ill and die when we decide it’s time to “live with COVID-19”.
I opine the Relaxing restrictions without high levels of vaccination in these groups will place rural Kenyans, and older and persons with disabilities at significant risk of serious illness due to COVID-19.
I declare that Kenya should add COVID as a disability category since some people will be left with it for a long time.
Moreover, In the race to vaccinate the population, it is essential that the people we considered the highest priority in March do not continue to be left behind.
We need concrete plans that engage communities and specific vaccination targets for elderly, persons with disabilities and the rural communities. These targets must be incorporated as a key part of Kenyan transition plan – if protecting those most at-risk from COVID-19 is truly important to Kenyans and our governments – and we need to achieve these group-specific targets before opening.
Kenyan Government need to be accountable for these targets with regular and transparent reporting of vaccination rates in priority groups on their vaccination tracker.
Words on a page won’t protect those at greatest risk like persons with disabilities, elderly, – we need action, transparency, and accountability.
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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”