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COVID-19’s Impact on People with Disabilities

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 05/04/2021 - 18:41

People with disabilities may face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to barriers to basic hygiene measures, difficulties in maintaining social distancing and poor access to public health information, explains WHO.

Mexico has about 21 million people living with a disability, representing 16.5 percent of the country’s population. This figure represents the 6.12 million people who were identified as living with a disability, the 723,770 facing a mental disorder and the 13.93 million who self-reported a limitation in performing activities in their daily lives, including limitations walking, seeing, hearing, applying self-care, speaking or communicating and remembering or concentrating. Women represent over half those living with disabilities, 53 percent over men’s 47 percent.

Many disabilities are concentrated on the population over 60 years of age, which represent 40.9 percent of the 21 million. They are followed by those between 30 and 59 years of age, who represent 29.8 percent, those between the ages of 18 and 29 represent 9.8 percent and those under 17 years old represent 9.1 percent.

Besides the regular challenges they face in their daily lives, this people are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their higher exposure to others caused by their need for additional support or because they are in a government or private institution. COVID-19 exacerbates existing health problems, particularly those related to respiratory or immune system function such as heart disease or diabetes.

When the pandemic began, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) asked for special attention for these groups, stating that older adults and those who are institutionalized in shelters, hospitals or psychiatric facilities are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic. CNDH enlisted six pivotal measures to protect these groups:

  1. Prioritize the adoption of safety measures for workers with disabilities, such as working from home.
  2. Implement fully inclusive health emergency protocols that guarantee the right to health and life of people with disabilities in equal conditions.
  3. Establish additional mechanisms to contact health services in order to facilitate communication for deaf people, as well as for people who require more support.
  4. Guide caregivers through the actions to be undertaken for the health care of people with disabilities in dependency situations.
  5. Develop alternative rehabilitation measures for people with disabilities to be carried out at home in the event of the eventual closure of rehabilitation centers.
  6. Adopt specific prevention and care protocols to protect people with a higher risk of contagion who are living in shelters, psychiatric hospitals, social reintegration centers or family homes, among other facilities.

These preventive measures aim to reduce the impact of the virus. However, the COVID-19 lockdown had a disproportionate impact on the 2.98 million children and adolescents living with disabilities. During the months of confinement, priority was given to minors with prostheses, orthotics or wheelchairs due to their accelerated growth. After the prolonged stay-at-home period, many of those children presented regressions, weight gain, sleep disorders or signs of anxiety and depression.

On an official company communicate, Marcelo Cuscuna, CEO for America Latina of Ottobock, shared that “the main challenge for children, their families and for us as prosthetists and therapists has been to face the growth of patients during the pandemic.” Ottobock is a German company specialized in technical, physiotherapeutic and social care for people with disabilities.

Consuna shared that infants, schoolchildren and adolescents are in a phase of accelerated growth that requires checking and adjusting their gait aids at least every three months, in some cases even more frequently. Alicia Meneses, specialist in the rehabilitation of congenital malformations at the Pediatric Rehabilitation area of ​​the National Rehabilitation Institute (INR), says in the same report that in her division priority was given to children with pain or spasticity management and those dealing with drug use or prosthetic devices. This division of the INR serves an average of 6,000 to 7,000 patients a year between the ages of 0 to 16 but with the pandemic, the influx of patients was reduced. In 2020, the unit provided services to about 2,300 minors.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
INEGI, Ottobock, WHO, Minister of Health Mexico City
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst