BY DAVIS LADOFO’OA – PWDSI
A young man named Tifton, 20, lives along the rugged logging road to Bolale, an hour drive from Aola in a small village called Botabiri in East Central Guadalcanal.
Life for Tifton is not the same as other young people of his age, living in the remote area of Botabiri. Tifton was born with Cerebral Palsy. Before receiving support from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), under Guadalcanal Province, Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) services, it was challenging for Tifton to move around in his community as well as accessing services.
Tifton was fortunate to be issued with a standard wheelchair which was provided by Guadalcanal Province CBR services. The CBR program provides rehabilitation services to people with disabilities throughout the country. The wheelchair that was provided, supported him with greater mobility. He used it for two years. The deteriorating condition of the wheelchair due to lack of maintenance from the CBR program and updates because of the challenges of geographical location and communication, this has affected his freedom of moving around. He now spends most of his time sitting inside his family’s house and normally crawl on the ground to move around.
Despite his disability and difficulties experienced with no wheelchair now, Tifton is always happy and excited about spending time with his community, especially when meeting new people who visit his small village. The greeting words and the expressions on his face always show the joy and thrill when he interacts with people.
Access to basic services is an ongoing challenge for Tifton and his family. They live in a remote part of East Central Guadalcanal. The Bolale clinic and Bolale School are located in the highlands, approximately 15km away from their village. To go to the clinic or school they normally walk or either hitch a ride on a logging company vehicle, which poses risks with safety concerns.
Accessing factual information on the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge for Tifton, his family, and even the community. They were living in fear when they initially heard about the devastating impacts of the disease in many countries and territories across the world, since the global outbreak of this disease. Communicating factual public health information, particularly on COVID-19 to people with disabilities (PWDs) such as Tifton is very important. This is to increase their knowledge of the disease and able to apply preventative measures to protect themselves and their community through targeted messages that suit the different impairments of PWD in the communities.
The recent collaboration by CBR, PWDSI, and Oxfam, was an initiative that targeted persons with disabilities to engage directly with them and their families to disseminate updated public health information on COVID-19. This approach has given the opportunity for Tifton and his family and even other persons with disabilities and their families who were being visited to access COVID-19 information to best prepare themselves not only on COVID-19 but also for any potential outbreaks.
It was unfortunate for Tifton to be replaced with another new wheelchair during the visit to his home because the wheelchairs are out of stock. However, the assessment was done and he will be replaced with a new wheelchair as and when the wheelchairs are in stock. Community-Based Rehabilitation relies on donation for wheelchairs and with the current COVID-19 pandemic has contributed very much to the challenges of resource allocation and mobilization particularly outreaching to clients and persons with disabilities in the remote areas of the country.
Whilst the key message of physical distancing embraces as one of the prevention measures of spreading COVID-19, we should not social distancing ourselves as partners but collaborate collectively to ensure inclusive approaches are undertaken during this pandemic situation in time as a way forward.
The government’s initiative of the stimulus package that seeks to be inclusive is commendable. Thus, in the spirit of ‘iu mi tugeda’, it would be encouraging that the stimulus package initiative reaches a broad coverage and more accessible including formal and informal sectors to the extent of reaching rural communities, including vulnerable groups who are facing the impact of the socio-economic challenges.
PWDSI recommends that based on the current ongoing COVID-19 pandemic preparedness and response activities, developing a survey to gather evidence on the socio-economic experiences of PWDs such as Tifton and others is considered as a priority. Thus, the findings will influence the responses of socio-economic recovery, tailored towards inclusivity and undertaking on social protection measures.