Persons with Disabilities have largely been unrecognized as a population for public health attention. They have systematically experienced the economic and social disadvantages of poverty and discrimination, and face great obstacles to optimal health. These experiences of disadvantage, discrimination, and difficulties in accessing health care and health promotion services contribute to unhealthier lifestyle behaviors and poorer mental health, creating a cycle of more chronic conditions, poorer health and increasing functional limitations.
Lusaka has been hit with cholera pandemic since October 2017. Majority of people are at risk of being infected with Cholera, especially those living in shanty compounds. Persons with disabilities are at extreme risk of being infected by cholera because of sanitation challenges.
Maria is a resident of Misisi compound in Lusaka. She uses a wheelchair for her mobility. With the outbreak of cholera, her movements have been highly restricted. People of Misisi compound have the habit of throwing garbage along the roadsides which contain unhealthy substances such as baby diapers with human waste, rotten food substances, used sanitary pads and many others. And most of the toilets in Misisi compound drain their water and waste into the streets. Due to lack of proper drainages in the area, the water becomes stagnant and creates a health hazard. This is especially challenging for Maria, who uses a wheelchair.
Maria also faces challenges in accessing the physical infrastructure. Most of the public toilets do not have accessibility features. The toilets found at most public places such as bus stations, markets, police stations etc. are not easily accessible to Maria. In Maria’s experience, whenever she wanted to use toilets at such places, people had to lift her without a wheelchair and put her in the toilet. Most of these toilets had wet floors and dirty. The wet floors pose a risk of contracting diseases like typhoid, dysentery, and cholera among other water-borne diseases.
Using a toilet at home is another challenge for Maria. The toilet at her place is not accessible and has stairs at the entrance. In most cases, the floor of the toilet has urine allover and no one cares to clean it. The only person who is concerned about her wellbeing is the mother, who unfortunately is ever busy with her business which keeps her away from home for most part of the day. She leaves home in the morning and only returns in the evening. Whenever she wants to use the toilet, she would leave her wheelchair and crawls through the stairs into the toilet wearing plastics on her hands. Sometimes these plastics get torn upon entering the toilet and she ends up touching the dirty thereby presenting a huge risk for contracting diseases.
There’s a lot that can be done to ameliorate the risks Maria is experiencing. The government, through the City Council should ensure:
- People stop throwing garbage on the roadside
- Stop discharging contaminated water from their toilets onto the streets
- Punishing community members who fail to adhere to good hygiene practices
- The City Council should be collecting waste regularly
- Sensitization programs to the members of the community on issues surrounding disability
- Families should give needed support to their members with disability.
Written by Soneni Zulu