“We don’t want our rights to be violated”: How COVID-19 is making life harder for people with disabilities in Gaza

People with disabilities are among those groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due, as the UN has highlighted, to “attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that are reproduced in the COVID-19 response.” These barriers exist across the occupied Palestinian territory and the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon where Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) works, and for many years we have implemented a rights-based approach to support people with disabilities to address them.

In Autumn 2019 this included a project in Gaza, run by MAP in partnership with the Nusirat Rehabilitation Centre and Social Training Association and the Social Developmental Forum, through which 16 people with disabilities told their own stories through photography. Their pictures were showcased in Palestine and the UK to highlight the day-to-day challenges the participants face to the enjoyment of their human rights.

One of the photographers was Abdelkarem, who is 30 years old and suffers from a mobility impairment. His photos explored the inaccessibility of public transportation for people with disabilities in Gaza, and the challenges he faces repairing his assistive devices. Abdelkarem is married and has a young daughter. He lives with his parents and four siblings as he cannot afford to live separately. He spoke to MAP about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his life:

“When the coronavirus crisis began we stayed at home. We used hand sanitiser and kept washing our hands. They were very long weeks. I generated zero income during this time. Even though I have never had a stable income, I usually manage to make some money by participating in trainings or short-term projects.

“Income was not my only issue, however, as I need medications on a monthly basis, and the organisation that provide me with these was closed, and I had to go to the pharmacy and pay for the medicine myself. I managed to do this for two months, but I don’t think I can afford it for a third.

"Gaza’s health system has been suffering the impact of 13 years of closure, repeated Israeli military assaults, having to respond to a series of mass casualty events at the recent Great Marches of Return, as well as the wider, deep humanitarian crisis.

“In Gaza we also have issues with repairing old assistive devices and finding new ones. I once spent three years looking for a new commode wheelchair after mine was broken. During the current crisis, one of the wheels of my wheelchair broke, and I can’t find anyone who can fix it.

“Before this crisis, things were way better. I worked as a volunteer in the Union for People with Disabilities, and my life was full of activities, initiatives, courses and voluntary work. Now my life is empty with no meaning. I feel useless.

“If the situation deteriorates in Gaza, and coronavirus spreads, I want the people to think of us, of our special needs, and our access to medication, equipment and medical services.”

MAP would like to thank Abdelkarem for speaking to us, and all those who took part in our participatory photo project. You can see their work and learn more about their lives in Gaza here.

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