Millions of people with disabilities live in the countries worst affected by the Ebola virus epidemic. For Handicap International, it’s vital to ensure that these vulnerable people are included in awareness campaigns and aid efforts. Bruno Leclercq, Handicap International’s field program director in Liberia and Sierra Leone, talks about what the organization is doing in response to the outbreak.
In early November, Handicap International will launch a large-scale national awareness-raising campaign targeted at people with disabilities. Vulnerable people often get left out of prevention campaigns, so they don’t know what they need to do to prevent disease transmission. We must reach them.
Since this summer, for example, we’ve been keeping in touch with 1,500 children with disabilities in Sierra Leone. These are children we were helping to go to school. Now that their schools are closed, our staff members are staying in contact with their families to make them aware of the measures to prevent Ebola.
One of the people we are currently monitoring is Emmanuel James, a 14-year-old boy who lives with his father, who’s also disabled. Emmanuel’s father is a blacksmith, but he can’t earn a living from his trade anymore because his business depends on cross-border traffic, and the border is closed. Emmanuel can’t go to school either or listen to the lessons broadcast on the radio because his father doesn’t have the money to buy one. We telephone Emmanuel and his father to be sure they know what to do to avoid exposing themselves to the virus.
We have also set up a disability and inclusion technical unit in Sierra Leone so that everyone, including people with disabilities, can benefit from the humanitarian relief effort. The impact of the epidemic goes far beyond the risk of contamination. Some families are now finding it difficult to buy food or even essential non-food items, like soap. The crisis has had a major impact on the economic and social fabric of these countries, with catastrophic results for the population as a whole, especially people with disabilities or chronic diseases.