Who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus? - Dilmurad Yusupov
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Who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus?

Photo: Gazeta.uz

Who should not be forgotten in the fight against the spread of Covid-19 in Uzbekistan? I wrote a short piece for Gazeta.uz on the protection of socially vulnerable people during the quarantine period.

On March 15, the first cases of coronavirus were registered in Uzbekistan. Bahrom Almatov, the chief sanitary doctor of Uzbekistan, director of the Agency for Sanitary and Epidemiological Welfare of the Population under the Ministry of Healthcare, announced that 80% of patients have a mild illness and, in some cases, patients may not even notice symptoms, 15% have a mild illness, 5% – have severe conditions. At the same time, he noted that the latter category of patients mainly includes people with chronic diseases and people of older age.

In early February, a boy with cerebral palsy died from starvation in China as his father and brother were forced to quarantine on suspicion of being infected with the coronavirus. It is unclear why the boy himself was not isolated together with his family. It turned out that for the entire period his relatives were in quarantine, the boy was fed only twice a day, he was left without the vital daily support of his father – his only guardian.

As a result of the death of a boy with cerebral palsy, two senior Chinese officials were fired, and the name of the boy himself, Yan Cheng, became a frequent reminder in Chinese media and social networks. This case served as a lesson for everyone.

The most vulnerable to the consequences of an outbreak of coronavirus may be disabled children and adults who need the constant support of their loved ones and the help of social workers.

33% of the population of Uzbekistan are minor children, another 24% are young people aged 18 to 30 years. Thus, almost 60% of the country’s population is young people. The international and local media write that most people recover from the coronavirus, the severe course of the disease is mainly observed in elderly people and those who have chronic diseases. The World Health Organization claims that “as a rule, Covid-19 coronavirus infection is mild, especially in children and young adults.”

Disabled children and adults

Frances Ryan, a Guardian columnist and author of the book “Crippled: Austerity and the Demonisation of Disabled People”, noted in her recent article that the spread of coronavirus has the greatest impact on people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. She was puzzled by the question of why British society is writing them [disabled people] off.

In her piece, she emphasizes that a public health crisis is not an event of equal opportunity. The poorest, the most marginalised and those with disabilities tend to suffer the most, while wealthy, non-disabled people with connections can mitigate the consequences.

In other words, non-disabled people and those without any special needs, have privileges associated with their physical condition and socioeconomic status. They can isolate themselves or apply the so-called “social distancing strategy”. People who do not need the support of outsiders can safely cut themselves off from the world – they can have a sufficient level of income and savings or sick leave payments to stock up on food and medicine.

Poverty and disability are closely interrelated. How can disabled people be able to isolate themselves if only 2% of them are employed in Uzbekistan and their whole life depends on a limited amount of social benefits and pensions? Those with congenital impairments who were able to register at the Medical Labour Expert Commissions (VTEK) receive a disability benefit in the amount of 466,680 Uzbekistani soum per month (less than $50 per month!). Therefore, they have to rely only on the financial and social support of their household members, relatives and charitable donations.

Before and during the spread of the coronavirus, the state should pay more attention to the social support for disabled people and the provision of social services for them. It is particularly necessary to take care of the elderly at Sakhovat houses [institutionalised homes for elderly people], sanatoriums and boarding houses for war and labour veterans, children at the Muruvvat boarding schools and other institutional settings. This sphere is rather poorly financed and not developed in Uzbekistan in terms of equipment and professional training of social workers.

Disabled people and older people who rely on the social assistance of the state and relatives cannot isolate themselves because they are directly dependent on outside care. In turn, such circumstances leave them with no choice – they need to interact with people who help them live.

As Frances Ryan put in her article, measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus should not become natural selection based on “the strongest survive” principle. We must pay more attention to those whose lives depend on our support and care.

The article was initially published in Russian on 16 March 2020 at Gazeta.uz.

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