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Pandemic unequivocally underscores Nagaland PwDs’ plight

Diethono Nakhro, Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Nagaland

Meshinshe Jamir
DIMAPUR, JUNE 14: While Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in the State have been neglected for a long time, the COVID pandemic has fore-fronted the lack of awareness and understanding of the community and made visible the lack of support from all sides.
The pandemic has unambiguously accentuated the need for the Government, as well as the public, to focus attention on, and prioritize, the PwDs, not only during this pandemic, but also at ‘normal’ times.

Nagaland Page reached out to Diethono Nakhro, State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, for information concerning disabled people and the underlying problems faced by the PwDs and the Commission, especially in view of the pandemic.
Currently, she said, that there is the issue of vaccine hesitancy.
“Like everyone else, the proliferation of misinformation has also affected many in the disability community and their families leading to reluctance to get vaccinated”, she said, adding that they have been getting several reports about it.
Nakhro, however, asserted that it is not the sole responsibility of the Health Department.
Her Department has already written to all the District Level Committees on Disability to coordinate with the Health authorities to carry out vaccination drives for PwDs, to carry out vaccination information or awareness programmes targeting the disability community families to dispel vaccine hesitancy, she informed.
They are also in touch with local partner organisations, asking them to assist the authorities.
On June 3, the Court of the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities had issued a suo moto notice to Nagaland Government/Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority (NSDMA) and State Health Department for priority vaccination of PwDs.
They were directed to submit an ‘action taken report’ within 7 days of receipt of the notice.

Asked about its status, she said: “We are yet to receive an official response. We gave 7 days for an action to be taken on the measures recommended and a report to be submitted. However, we have seen that the Health & Family Welfare Department has initiated steps on June 7 whereby vaccination of Persons with Disabilities will be prioritized during the Intensified Vaccination Drive.”
Concerning the option given for PwDs to contact health workers for their vaccination, Nakhro said that it is a positive step and it will certainly help but a lot more needs to be done on the ground.
“Special vaccination drives need to be carried out, home vaccination needs to be considered for those with high support needs and it’s not only disabled people, but even elderly people will also benefit from a home vaccination programme. There’s also the matter of IDs”, she pointed out.
“There will be many not in possession of the IDs prescribed for vaccination, including the disability UDID (Unique Disability ID) which has been added recently. There is an SOP issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, GoI, in this regard and this must be implemented or else a lot of people will not be able to get vaccinated, both disabled and non-disabled”, she added.
Regarding the Government’s special provisions towards PwDs, she said that there is still a lot of unawareness and lack of understanding towards disability and disability laws, and it’s not easy getting the authorities to act.
“Individual officials in the various districts, Health, and all other Departments, have cooperated positively with us and done the needful since the beginning, but it has been very difficult to get the authorities to notify disability-specific provisions that need to be put out there. Even for vaccination, we had to issue the legal notice since no response was forthcoming despite several communications from our end.

“What must be understood is that disability-specific provisions are not asked because disabled people need some kind of special mollycoddling. Disability-specific provisions are required because persons with disabilities are often among the last groups of people who can access highly demanded public services, particularly in situations of risk and emergency, due to attitudinal and environmental barriers”, she said.
Concerning vaccination, inaccessible information on registration systems or processes, inaccessible medical centres, and stigmatising attitudes among family members, healthcare professionals, and others are only some of the barriers that PwDs may face accessing vaccinations on an equal basis with others, said the Commissioner.
Unless they are specifically prioritised in vaccination strategies, disabled people will be disproportionately excluded and left behind with a loss of lives and livelihoods, she warned.
According to Nakhro, disability is a sector that has been badly neglected for the past many years in the State; and like everything else, disability inclusion in Disaster Management is not something that has been a strong focus at all.
“In this extraordinary disaster situation that we find ourselves in currently, the deficiencies have glaringly been exposed. So, taking the experience and learning from the situation, my office has already approached the State Disaster Authority and I must say they have been very responsive and open to working together to revamp operation plans to make it disability-inclusive. Guidelines and training modules are in the process of being prepared and we hope this will be the start to truly mainstreaming disability inclusion in our disaster management processes”, she shared.
The Commissioner said they have already received information about Mon District administration carrying out a vaccination drive for PwDs, with transportation facility offered to those who need it.
Stating that Mon Administration has always been very proactive, she expressed hope other districts will also take similar steps.
Nakhro also appealed to everyone, including the churches, to help in their own areas/localities/villages and ensure that all persons with disabilities get vaccinated.

Nagaland Page also spoke to some family members of PwDs to get their opinions about the vaccination drive, and other requirements related to PwDs.
The sister of a 32-year-old man with mental disorder said that her brother is yet to get vaccinated as he is not getting the slot for registration online.
Asked about the Health Department’s suggestion to contact health workers for vaccination of disabled persons, she said that it is a good initiative.
At the same time, she said it will be interesting to watch how it translates on the ground “as there are many times when this kind of activities do not have any systematic follow-ups”.
She also shared that her brother was attending a school for PwDs in Dimapur but stopped after noticing the very slow progress due to the lack of proper facilities and well-trained teachers to take care of people with cases like his.
According to her, Nagaland is lacking proper facilities and well-trained teachers in institutions for disabled persons.
“Most of the institutions we have in our State are private-oriented and many disabled persons are unable to attend the institutions due to financial issues. I hope that our State Government takes up measures to provide an institution with proper facilities and well-trained and qualified teachers as there are sensitive cases that should be treated with priorities. Creating more awareness and treating disabled persons with love and care instead of sympathy and pity would uplift the PwDs community”, she shared.
The mother of 21-year-old Aben, who has behavioural disorder, said that they want to vaccinate her son but due to his disability they are reluctant to take him outside as his condition becomes worse when exposed to the outside environment.
She said that the family has no way of helping him cope with the outside environment as they cannot even send him to school due to financial problem.

“We can hardly control him at home, and it will be a quite handful if we take him outside, especially to a crowded place”, she said.
“It would be of great help if the Health team could provide home vaccination service for cases like our family, since the pandemic is getting worse and everyone is relying on the vaccine”, the mother said.
For the longest time, the prevailing attitude towards PwDs in the State has been that they are incapable of contributing to society and must rely on welfare or charitable organisations.
Indubitably, this pandemic has yet another profound lesson to teach us, to change us.