By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
A recent citizens’ perception survey on access to services for Persons With Disability (PWDs) reveals that majority of public structures in Sierra Leone are non-friendly to this category of the population. As a result, it remains a huge challenge for PWDs to access essential social services including health, education and social protection.
Conducted by SABI (an accountability programme funded by UKaid and delivered by a consortium of international organizations led by Christian Aid) in June and July 2018, the survey targeted selected chiefdoms in the Western and Eastern regions of the country and gives a general overview of citizens’ perception of service delivery in health, education and social protection with particular attention to PWDs across Sierra Leone.
The findings particularly show that the majority of PWDS cannot access services provided by health institutions and structures across the Western and Eastern regions mainly because the facilities are not disable-friendly. It also gives indications of how various factors contribute to this lack of access to services and their consequences.
Out of 8,420 respondents interviewed across 30 wards in 20 chiefdoms and 5 districts on their access to health and other facilities,10% were PWDs. 59% of respondents in Kailahun District said health facilities“are difficult to reach”, citing bad roads, lack of transportation and affordability of transport cost as some of the reasons. Kailahun District has probably the worst road network in the entire country, especially during the rains. Worse, most catchment communities have to walk long distances to access health facilities.
However, respondents in Kenema District said they don’t encounter much difficulty in reaching health facilities but 63% said the facilities are not disable-friendly, and that cuts across health facilities in the country.
For the Western Area (both urban and rural),a key challenge is absence of health staff at facilities during respondents visits for treatment. 63% of respondents said “there was no one to talk to or ask for information” when they visited. 11% of the respondents were PWDs. The same can be said for Kono district.
According to the United Nations, over 1 billion people in the world have some form of disability; in Sierra Leone 1.3% of the population are disabled (SSL 2015 PHC). In 2011 the country passed the Persons with Disability Act, which aims “…to prohibit discrimination against persons with disability, achieve equalisation of opportunities for persons with disability and to provide for other related matters”. To what extent the Act has been popularized and implemented remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, at the District Council Hall in Kenema District last week, a workshop was organized exclusively for PWDs and line ministries by SEND Sierra Leone with support from SABI, UNDP, and Irish Aid to share a Policy Paper developed by SEND on PWDs’ access to health, education and social protection services from the citizens’ perception survey. The workshop deliberated on the survey findings and developed action plans and recommendations going forward.
But the highlight of the workshop was the outbursts of the participants. Labelling disability as a health and human rights issue, Ekundayo Scotland, Commissioner for the National Commission for Persons Living With Disability, Eastern Region, said he was disappointed and discouraged that the Ministry of Health and Sanitation was not paying due attention to the plight of PWDs.
“They should be the first Government ministry to be concerned about PWDs. Because what we are going through is all as a result of poor health; health in terms of polio and other diseases. Our situation is so serious that it needs immediate attention,” fumed Ekundayo.
He said Sierra Leone cannot achieve the sustainable development goals without actively participating in ensuring that there’s equality, empowerment and inclusion for PWDs. And this, he said, will be realised “when you give affordable and quality health care to PWDs, when you give quality education, and social services”.
Moreover, Ekundayo lamented the issue of society creating added disability to worsen their situation.
“To us, disability is now a second nature; but what disturbs us the most is when the environment or society creates disability for us.The real problem is when the environment keeps reminding you that you are disabled. Let me share this with you: I wanted to have a haircut yesterday but I couldn’t use the roads because construction was ongoing. Non-disable persons were able to use the road because they have free access, but I couldn’t because there’s no provision made for us. So automatically I learnt that I was disabled,” explained Ekundayo, adding that Government and its partners need to invest in infrastructure that will take into account PWDs.
Similarly, Hawa Koroma, Chairlady for PWDs, Kenema District,narrated her ordeal to attend the workshop.
“My child escorted me here before he would go to school. I have to be lifted up like a baby. I felt embarrassed and humiliating.Some people laughed at us. It’s so shameful,” explained Hawa.
Furthermore, Ekundayo called for a speedy review of the Disability Act of 2011 which he claimed has many loose ends.
“In Part 5 of the Act, there are privileges for PWDs. For example, education, but this privilege is only for tertiary education. What about primary and secondary education? Do we just jump into tertiary education? Thank God the Free Quality Education is here, but it needs to be incorporated into the Act. Therefore, we need to review the Act to make it more comprehensive for the rights, welfare and protection of PWDs,” he said.
No matter their situation now or wherever they are, PWDs need our attention, care and protection, said Joseph Ayamga, Country Director of SEND Sierra Leone.
“If we want to be better as a society, we cannot plan and develop without the inclusion, consideration and respect for the skills, competences and contributions of persons with disability. There is not a single individual in this world without a disability. Some of us lack commonsense, some of us have health problems, some are morally immature and many more of us are the problems that make a country like Sierra Leone suffer poverty and marginalization. Those are our disabilities, but we have failed to consider them. Why use the disability of other people to discriminate them?” said Joseph.
He urged PWDs to rise up and stop begging on the streets and to hold the government accountable to provide the opportunities to empower disabled people.
Among the key action plans adopted during the workshop, were the review and popularization of the Disability Act 2011; establishment of disability desks in all MDAs; construction and rehabilitation of schools and health centers should be disable-friendly; inclusion of PWDs in Facility Management Committees (FMCs) and School Management Committees (SMCs);and inclusion of PWDs in all committees at district and chiefdom levels.