In Nigeria, an estimated number of 25 million people have one form of disability or the other, according to the World Health Organization. Out of the estimated 25million, WHO’s report put the number of visually impaired persons at 5.7% as the most common form of disability experienced in the country.
People with hearing impairment made the second on the list at 3.3% while those who had difficulty in walking were placed at 2.4%.
Also, the report shows that there is a high prevalence of disability among the older population in Nigeria. The statistics show about 40 people out of those who are over 60 years old have one form of disability or the other.
Urban areas was recorded to have the highest number of PWDs in the country with 11.7% while 10.4% others reside in the rural areas
Persons with disability generally have health care needs majorly those with impairment and they have been attributed to receiving low and poor quality health care in the country.
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus has not however been accessible for many persons with disability.
Barriers to health care for PWDs
Many persons with disability clearly have unmet needs regarding accessing health care in Nigeria.
Dr. Stella Iwuagwu, Executive Director at the Centre to the Right for Health in an interview with Nigeria Health Watch said persons with disabilities in Nigeria faced a major challenge of access in getting health care.
Dr. Iwuagwu says many health facilities in Nigeria have no ramps for those on wheelchairs.
She also disclosed that there are poor signage, narrow doorways, internal steps, inadequate bathroom facilities and inaccessible parking areas for people with disabilities.
“Have you ever thought of how a pregnant woman with impaired hearing attends antenatal classes? What happens when a patient cannot speak and has no relative or help around? Do our healthcare facilities have sign language interpreters?” she asked
Non-prioritization of PWDs in vaccination centers
In March 2021, Executive Director, Center for Citizens with Disability, David Anyaele
had in a statement lamented over the non-inclusion of Persons with Disability from the priority groups to be administered the COVID-19 vaccine.
Anyaele in the statement expressed worry that persons with disabilities are missing amongst the prioritized groups by the federal government.
CCD also noted that PWDs in Nigeria have continued to be highly discriminated against by State and non-State institutions and mostly healthcare service providers.
“We are also concerned that the developing protocols for vaccination of Nigerians made no reference to persons with disabilities. Our worries is premised on the fact that persons with disabilities are susceptible to contact COVID bearing in mind their inability to operate independently most time hence the need to be given topmost priority in vaccination exercise.”
Meanwhile, it was observed that only few PWDs have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine while CCD in another report in August claimed that 100% of PWDs in Lagos have not been involved in the COVID-19 vaccine amid the third wave.
Presenting the report, David Anyaele, said systemic factors aﬀecting access to COVID-19 vaccine among PWDs during the survey conducted, showed that there is lack of speciﬁc policy guidelines prioritising the various needs of PWDs at the vaccination centres.
Anyaele also noted that discrimination, poor attitude, and unprofessional practices of health workers at public health institutions as continued to aﬀect equal access to vaccination centres, among PWDs.
Absence of sign language and braille interpreters at vaccination centers
Most vaccination centres visited have no provision for PWDs to get a sign language expert and interpreters who would help relate the information to them correctly.
CCD also in its report on COVID-19 and PWDs for Lagos and Abuja, noted it is challenging for persons with disability to get vaccines as there was no provision for them to get sign language and braille interpreters mostly for those who are deaf.
This they say has limited many of the PWDs from going to the vaccination centers in their respective states.
CCD said “the PWDs interviewed in our research reported that there were no sign language interpreters for the hearing impaired clusters. Priority was not given to the PWDs with hidden disabilities (hearing impaired and persons with Albinism) in a queue and many vaccine centres are not accessible to PWDs on wheelchairs or those using crutches.”
Accessibility – a major hindrance to vaccination
During interview sessions with some persons with disabilities, they lamented that access to vaccination centres is a major challenge for them.
Comrade Solomon Yahaya, a physically challenged who is the chairman of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disability (JONAPWD) in Kogi State says most of the vaccination centers are not accessible to them.
Yahaya said most clinics have stairs without assistance for PWDs adding that PWDs have not been prioritised in the administration of COVID-19 vaccine.
“Most of our problem getting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is accessibility. Our stakeholders, Chairman, Executives of PWDs are not involved in the planning process with regards to COVID-19 vaccine.
“If they were fully involved the state chairman would have let them know the challenges PWDs face by letting them know they’ll not be able to climb stairs and alternative means would have been provided.”
Yahaya also lamented that they were not carried along. He said ” Whatever they do they don’t keep us informed we are not carried along in the scheme of things. At the end of the day what they come up with may not be favorable to our people.”
Yahaya noted the issue of vaccine hesitancy among PWDs this he attributed to lack of information on COVID-19 vaccine for PWDs.
Though Yahaya said he has gotten the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine even though it wasn’t easy he has not been able to receive the second dose as he was transferred to another clinic not accessible to him.
“Yes, I have gotten my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine but it wasn’t easy doing so. When I got it I was feeling feverish and the place where they gave me the injection was causing me pain for some time. I was having that fear. Maybe this could be another thing but after some time the pain went away.
“I have not gotten the second dose because they referred me to another clinic which I don’t even know the place and not to talk about how to access the place.”
Yahaya however appealed to the government to make vaccination accessible for PWDs by creating halls where they can come to get vaccinated with ease.
“I would appeal to the government on the issue of this COVID-19 vaccine to sponsor and help us get halls where the medical personnel will come to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to us.
“The place that will be accessible to our people so that they can be coming in one two. They should not refer them to a different clinic so they can take the first and second dose in one place.
“If the place is accessible to our people they will come. Most of the PWDs live in abject poverty. If they want to encourage them to get vaccinated they should also arrange for their transport to the vaccination center. This will make them feel eager to get vaccinated in large numbers.
Rotimi Olubodede, a visually impaired who resides in Nasarawa says he is yet to get the vaccine and does not have any interest in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I didn’t take the COVID-19 because I don’t have interest, not because I have tried or I have been able to get it.”.
Meanwhile, Ali Abdulahi, a patron of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disability (JONAPWD) in Bauchi State claimed that he does not have access to any information about COVID-19 vaccine.
Abdulahi said the COVID-19 vaccine is not available where he resides.
He lamented the challenge of access to healthcare services for PWDs adding that most clinics require them to climb stairs.
“I have not gotten my own COVID-19 vaccine because they didn’t bring it to our area. It’s always very hard for us to climb stairs where the COVID-19 vaccine is available and there is no chance for PWDs like me to climb stairs.
“I do not even have any information about the vaccine. None of our physically challenged over here in Bauchi have taken the vaccine.
“The government should go through our association and assist us on where to do it easily. “
Government should do more
Speaking, Engr. Augustine Onwuamaegwu the National President of Persons with Disability Initiative Nigeria said efforts are being made for PWDs in Nigeria to get vaccinated.
Onwuamaegwu said through the help of the minister of health some PWDs have gotten their COVID-19 vaccine.
He also stated that his NGO has continued to encourage PWDs to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, he noted that even when the vaccines are readily available, hesitancy has continued to be a topmost challenge amongst PWDs in the administration of COVID-19 vaccine in the country.
“There are some PWDs that do not want to take the vaccine but right now a whole lot have taken the vaccine.
“Some PWDs say they do not want to get vaccinated based on their religious beliefs. Some just said they don’t want any needle to go into their body.”
He however, called on the government to continue to do more to prioritise healthcare for PWDs.
“This OUTBREAK story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData program as part of the Data4COVID19 Africa Challenge hosted by l’Agence française de développement (AFD), Expertise France, and The GovLab“