On 16 December 2021, the EUD attended a webinar hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This was the final webinar of the four-part series launched in September 2021. The webinar focused on health emergencies in the general context and during the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency. It included the chance to discuss and develop key advocacy messages on ways to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on PWDs and ensure their right to the highest attainable standard of health in accordance with Article 25 of the UNCRPD.
The opening address was given by Antony Duttine, Advisor of Disability and Rehabilitation at the Pan-American Health Organisation, the Regional Office of the WHO in the Americas. He explained that the previous three webinars had covered the importance of disability inclusion in universal health coverage and strengthening public health systems and cross-sectoral interventions to deliver essential quality medical services for PWDs. Mr Duttine said that the proceedings from this fourth webinar would be included in the upcoming global report on disability and health, published towards the end of 2022.
Krista Carr, Executive Vice President of Inclusion Canada, one of Canada’s 10 largest charitable organisations, talked about her country’s perspective on health emergencies. She stated that as a national organisation that works with the federal government, at the beginning of the pandemic, they presented the barriers that PWDs face in the health sector to the Minister of Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. Those conversations led to the creation of the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group (DAG). The DAG comprises 10 leaders in the national disability space who meet every two weeks and advise the government on what needs to be done for PWDs. Mrs Carr explained that even though PWDs make up 23% of the Canadian population, they have not been a priority during the pandemic. All other marginalised populations were cited as priorities long before PWDs. Disability organisations need to work together, be vocal, be active in the media, be vigilant with respect to governments’ policy-making, and keep disability issues at the forefront. She concluded by saying that in a crisis, the government often causes harm by implementing measures that they believe to be progressive without talking to the people who will be affected by those measures. For example, in the COVID-19 response, the provincial-territorial governments in Canada did not work with the disability community to ensure that PWDs were being considered.
The Director of UN Advocacy at Women Enabled International (WEI), Amanda McRae, spoke about the gender perspective of health emergencies and their impact. WEI is a non-governmental organisation that works to advance the rights of the intersection of gender and disability worldwide. In the early part of the pandemic, WEI identified that women and girls and gender non-conforming people with disabilities were being left out of the discourse about the COVID-19 response. They then created a global survey to address the impact of the pandemic on these individuals. The survey results led to three recommendations: 1) we need to integrate existing international guidance into crisis preparation, response, and recovery; 2) we need to include women and girls with disabilities as experts on their situations in their own lives; and 3) since the baseline of gender-based violence protections and access to sexual and reproductive health services, employment, and education was significantly lower for women and girls with disabilities going into the crisis, we need to consider the long-term fulfilment of these rights for this group.
The speakers underlined the need for greater collaboration between OPDs and national governments during health emergencies. They pointed out that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the lives of PWDs, whether through discrimination, lack of inclusion, or lack of accessible information. Most importantly, the event highlighted the lessons learned to provide more robust advocacy and communication measures to ensure an inclusive health sector for persons with disabilities.