Liberia’s Blind People, Other PWDs “Hit Harder” on Coronavirus

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NUOD’s President Ms. Naomi B. Harris

…Crying to Government & International Partners for life-saving items

By Samuel G. Dweh (0886618906, 0776583266; [email protected])

Some of their members are visually impaired, but tour city centers, sometimes escorted by children, in search of food and other basic needs of life and for their families. Some move (crawl) on their knees (physically challenged) or are confined to wheelchairs, with the help of their children or grandchildren. Others are hearing impaired.

Beginning from the end of Liberia’s civil war (in 2003), their numbers have increased everywhere: in market areas, at offices or private homes of ‘humanitarians’, among cars in the traffic, at worship centers (especially Churches and Mosques), at the gates of Supermarkets, and other places they think — or have been told — money or food is being shared.

These are some members of Liberia’s community of the group globally known as Persons with Disabilities (PWD) as suggested by the United Nations Conventions for persons in their “external body conditions”.

The UNCPD (United Nations Conventions on Persons with Disabilities) refer collectively to these persons as the ‘most vulnerable group’, among ‘economically disadvantaged’ bodies, of citizens of each Country, because they do not have the ‘complete physical features’ (sight, complete number of hands, strong legs, etc.) that easily facilitates getting of a person’s needs or wants.

The plight of Liberia’s group of PWDs has been exacerbated by the presence of a new global epidemic – Coronavirus. The disease first showed up in Asia, through China, according to reports by foreign media institutions, but it has now shown its deadly and economically strangulating face in Liberia.

The first report of Corona Virus in Africa’s oldest Republic was known through the Liberian Government’s ‘medical report’ on a top Government official — Dr. Nathaniel Blama, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—in March, 2020, in a week after he had returned home from the Green Climate Change Funding Meeting in a South Korean City called Songdo. In two weeks later, the Liberian Government reported that the ‘infected’ EPA’s boss had made 126 contacts since his arrival, but 26 of the 126 were in the “high risk” category.

To contain the spread of the Coronavirus, Liberia’s Head of State, George Manneh Weah, has given order banning congregations of persons anywhere—including places where Persons with Disabilities have been “assembling” to beg for alms.

“In Liberia, there are more than sixteen percent of our national population who are living with some forms of disabilities,” declared Ms. Naomi B. Harris, physically challenged (crutches-mobile), president of the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD) at NUOD’s Press Conference On March 25, 2020 at NUOD’s Head Office on 19th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia.

NUOD is an independent advocacy group of Persons with Disabilities in Liberia, educating other members of the public on the rights of disabled people in line with UNCRPD, and regularly engaging the National Government to support respect for the rights of PWDs at public functions with implementation by creation of welfare programs and provision of “easy mobility aid” (ramps) at all public buildings. Ramps are absent in many government buildings across Liberia’s 15 counties.

On President Weah’s order of at least six-feet space between two persons gathered anywhere, NUOD’s president, who became disabled at age two (paralysis of left leg), said: “Others may not be able to practice social distancing because they do not know or see their physical environment.”

Based on these disability-posed challenges, Madam Harris continued, NUOD is appealing to the “Government of Liberia and our International Partners to provide some essentials package to persons with disabilities that will enable them cope with the measures put in place by the Government, taking into consideration that PWDs are regularly found in the street to ask for help before they can have a meal for the day.”

On help needed, the NUOD’s president listed “food items and buckets with disinfectant materials like chlorine, sanitizers, soap.”

Other recommendations mentioned in the Press Statement are: The Liberian Government and Liberia’s International Partners should assist care givers of PWDs with food items that will enable them always be with those they care for; the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) should train heads of Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) to conduct awareness on preventive measures against Coronavirus among their members and in their communities; the Government should provide public health information and messages accessible to persons with disabilities through the use of sign language and Braille.

In her concluding statement, the NUOD president declared: “We want to stress that everyone should take precautions against COVID-19. Therefore, those who are at a higher risk of the disease should have the potential to be a bit aggressive by, for example, demanding that visitors wash their hands when they are entering their homes.”

In spite of their disabilities and financial constraints, ten members of NUOD have embarked public awareness on the Coronavirus in their respective communities.

“The total number is ten—two physically challenged; two hearing impaired or deaf; and four visually impaired,” NUOD‘s president Naomi B. disclosed to this writer in a exclusive interview. “The idea and training came from Liberia’s Culture Ambassador, Juli Endee. The training was conducted on Sunday, March 22, and awareness commenced on Monday, March 23.”

Madam Sandra Flomo, a 41-year-old physically challenged, single mother with four children, is one of the 10 NUOD’s members on the anti-Corona Virus tours.

“So far, I have taken my Corona Virus preventive measures awareness to three places: Antoinette Tubman Cheshire Care Home on tenth Street; the Association of Disabled Female International in Slipway Community; and the My Heart’s Appeal Care Home in Gaye Town in the Old Road Community,” narrated Ms. Flomo, president of Christian Association of the Physically Disabled (CAPD) in an exclusive interview to this writer.

However, the mother-of-four-children has a serious challenge, beside those created by the deformity of her both legs. “I can’t get money to leave for my children at home for food, before leaving home for the anti-Corona Virus awareness,” she said.

NUOD was founded on October 17, 1995.

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