New guidance issued on Thursday sets out key actions, to counter what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the “double risk” faced by persons with disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Michelle Bachelet explained, not only are people with disabilities at higher risk because of the crisis, they also are disproportionately affected by response measures such as lockdowns.
I am disturbed by reports that the lives of people with disabilities may be given different weight than others during #COVID19. Medical decisions need to be based on individualized clinical assessments & medical need, and not on age or disability characteristics. https://t.co/IaqXhT76oI— Michelle Bachelet (@mbachelet) April 30, 2020
“People with disabilities are in danger in their own homes, where access to day-to-day support and services may be limited due to lockdowns, and some may suffer greatly from being isolated or confined”, she said.
“Persons with disabilities face even greater threats in institutions, as care facilities have recorded high fatality rates from COVID-19 and horrific reports have emerged of neglect during the pandemic.”
Disturbing reports of discrimination
The UN rights chief added that making information about the virus available in accessible formats is vital. She also expressed concern over discrimination and stigma at this unprecedented time.
“I have been deeply disturbed by reports that the lives of persons with disabilities may somehow be given different weight than others during this pandemic”, she said.
“Medical decisions need to be based on individualized clinical assessments and medical need, and not on age or other characteristics such as disability.”
Promising practices highlighted
The guidance note published by the UN human rights office, which Ms. Bachelet heads, outlines steps governments and stakeholders can take during the pandemic.
They range from discharging persons with disabilities from institutions, to increasing existing disability benefits, and removing barriers to COVID-19 treatment. Prioritizing testing and promoting preventive measures within institutions to reduce infection risk are other recommendations.
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Additionally, the guidance spotlights promising practices already in place in some countries.
For example, in Switzerland and Spain, some persons with disabilities living in institutions were moved out to be at home with their families, while authorities in Canada have issued priority COVID-19 testing guidelines with specific measures for these settings.