BIKITA — Jonathan Mapirazvemoyo (20) is now out of school. He was born with a deformed spinal cord and has no one to push his wheelchair around so he is stuck at home.
BY BYRON MUTINGWENDE
He was born with the physical handicap to poor parents in the Dondi area of Bikita. He said: “I am my mother’s only son. Fate had it that she could not bear any more children after me because her womb had to be removed after some complications during my birth.
“When I was eight my father divorced my mother on grounds that she had no other child apart from me. I then grew up with a step-mother and had to start primary school when I was 11. That is when we had a male house help who would push my wheelchair to the school, which was just a stone’s throw from our homestead,” Mapirazvemoyo said.
Mapirazvemoyo passed his Grade 7 final examinations with flying colours. The nearest secondary school is some 16km away and because of his condition he had to drop out of school.
“I have heard about institutions like Jairos Jiri and Danhiko Project in Harare, but because my father struggles financially, getting to Harare is just a pipe dream,” he said.
Attendant barriers that people with disabilities (PWDs) grapple with on a daily basis often result in their rights being violated — a situation that calls for a paradigm shift on how society must address the challenges.
The United Nations, cognisant of the challenges people with disabilities face, set aside the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which calls on member states to promote an understanding of their realities and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been commemorated since 1992, when the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 3 as the day for the commemorations. The theme for 2015 was, Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment For People of All Abilities.
Sub-themes for IDPD 2015 were Making Cities Inclusive and Accessible For All, Improving Disability Data and Statistics as well as Including Persons With Invisible Disabilities in Society and Development.
The executive director of the Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe (LCDZ), Ben Chikwanha, on the institution’s belated commemorations of the day, decided to focus on the sub theme of making cities inclusive and accessible for all.
“As LCDZ we decided to do a clean-up campaign at Kambuzuma 2 Shopping Centre, which sought to highlight that a clean city is an accessible city. Most people with disabilities are engaged in the informal sector and have challenges in accessing public places due to piles of litter on the streets, hence the need to set up an example by cleaning our locality,” he said.
Chikwanha urged the Ministry of Local Government to make a deliberate move to include people with disabilities in all government’s efforts especially access to housing.
“Most PWDs do not have fixed places of abode. The majority of PWDs in our programmes are lodgers. This makes it difficult for us to track them especially when they are engaged in long-term programmes. It also reduces their chance of accessing services like opening a bank account and getting bank loans since these require a fixed place of residence.”
Addressing LCDZ beneficiaries, Minister of State for Harare province, Miriam Chikukwa, said the global trend in dealing with persons with disabilities has shifted from care to community-based service provision.
“We have seen persons with disabilities being incorporated in our educational system by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. Our government, assisted by various organisations, also conducts a series of advocacy campaigns that seek to empower youths with disabilities in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” she said.
Chikukwa called for more health and rehabilitation programmes that provide physiotherapy, skills training and occupational health care.
In a statement recently, the Afrique Rehabilitation and Research Consultants (ARRC) said the commemoration of World Disability Day provides opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the provision of chronic medication to 15% of Africa’s population who live with a physical, sensory (i.e. blindness, deafness), intellectual or mental health impairment.
“Unfortunately, there is little encouraging to report. People with disabilities have the need for access to disability related medication and medical equipment such as male and female catheters to prevent secondary complications. They are also compounded risks to develop secondary disabilities and illnesses and be associated with HIV and Aids.
“Every risk factor for HIV and Aids — poverty, restricted access to education and employment, increased rates of violence and social isolation — are also risk factors faced by people with disabilities. People with disabilities are as likely as all other members of society to be sexually active, and are at equal or increased risk from drugs and alcohol,” the statement said.
ARRC added that PWDs often face stigma and prejudice because of traditional beliefs and practices.
“While at equal or increased risk for becoming HIV positive they are far less likely to receive needed Aids education, medical care, social or economic support. Additionally, people living with HIV are at risk of becoming disabled based on their illness and treatment.
“Arguably a greater barrier than stigma and prejudice is ignorance of what it means to live with a disability. Need for greater awareness extends to government and public health officials, health providers and community outreach workers, the very people charged with ensuring that HIV education and services, and more broadly, sexual and reproductive health, universal health coverage and gender-based violence programmes, reach everyone.”
It said in recent years, disability issues have gained traction on the world stage. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, now ratified by 159 countries, ensures that people with disabilities must be included in all global development and health initiatives, although implementation lags far behind new legal assurances.