Global Disability Summit 2022 – ‘Locked down and left behind’

Reducing inequalities for people with disabilities in the wake of Covid-19

The Leprosy Mission is calling on the UK Government to use its influence to further the rights of people disabled by leprosy in response to this week’s Global Disability Summit in Norway.

We welcome the new UK FCDO Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy and their Commitments at the Global Disability Summit 2022. We are particularly glad to see the commitment to increase engagement with Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) and the promise to prioritize marginalized and under-represented groups. We ask that people with leprosy-related disability are recognized as being especially marginalized and in need of greater support. We support the move towards local leadership and ownership of OPDs but note that this cannot be successful without training, technical assistance and sustained funding.

The Leprosy Mission hosted a Side Event at the Global Disability Summit this afternoon [17 Feb] enabling people affected by leprosy and disability to share their story and advocate for change.

The overseas charity has seen the inequality gap widen for people affected by leprosy and disability because of the global pandemic. In response to the Global Disability Summit, it has set out five commitments. These ensure that people with disabilities are at the very heart of each and every project rolled out across Asia and Africa.

The Leprosy Mission welcomes the commitments made at the Global Disability Summit to achieve change for people with disabilities. The first Global Disability Summit was in 2018 and inspired commitments that helped to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development vision of ‘leave no one behind’. The International Disability Alliance, the Government of Norway and the Government of Ghana hosted the second Global Disability Summit on 16 and 17 February. The summit was mainly virtual.

Chief Executive of The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, Peter Waddup, said since 2018 the UK Government was seen as a global leader on disability inclusion. However, the pandemic and de-prioritisation of international development threatens to undermine its good work. The 2022 Global Disability Summit was an opportunity for the UK government to continue to be seen as a leader on disability inclusion through clear commitments. We call for it to deliver on these commitments, to ensure development aid reaches the world’s poorest and most marginalised people.

Peter said: “The Covid-19 pandemic increased inequalities around the world, particularly for people with disabilities. The UK government must support efforts to build back from the pandemic in an inclusive way and deliver on its commitment to leave no one behind.

“At The Leprosy Mission we have seen where Covid has caused the most widespread devastation. A not so visible and vulnerable group of people, people affected by leprosy and disability, have undoubtedly suffered the most.”

The Leprosy Mission Trust India’s recent report Pandemic and People’s Plight highlights some of the challenges that Covid posed in terms of leprosy screening, diagnosis and treatment as well as livelihoods and education.

Peter explained: “In India where lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19 completely shut down the country, it was the communities in which we work that had the most limited access to healthcare.

“It was also people living in these communities who went hungry first. The pandemic left many children and young people affected by leprosy and disability with no option but to leave education. It pains me to think of them having to limit their life chances.

“While our wonderful colleagues in India did everything in their capability to help, the Global Disability Summit presents a golden opportunity. It is a time to focus on how to bring people already living on the margins back into the fold. A time for their voices to be heard.”

With India's healthcare workforce largely directed to the Covid response, people affected by leprosy and disability were often unable to access specialist care. This has seen an increase in disability with many infected wounds caused by leprosy resulting in amputation.

Travel restrictions and a suspension in public transport meant people living in communities affected by leprosy were unable to work. This led to severe hunger.

Peter said: “The pandemic demonstrated just how quickly people affected by leprosy and disability can plummet into extreme poverty. We need to work harder and smarter to ensure they have the healthcare and life chances they deserve as much as anyone else.

“Key to this is tackling stigma. Deep-rooted prejudice and surrounding leprosy made it hard for people to get help during the pandemic. For example, when school was largely accessed online for children in India, youngsters from communities affected by leprosy couldn’t visit their classmate’s homes to use their friend’s smartphones. This was because of unfounded prejudice which is so utterly unjust.

“It was uplifting to hear that our amazing colleagues in India were working to find tablets and smartphones so that children in communities affected by leprosy could continue their education.

“I also loved hearing the stories from our self-help groups across India. These groups had previously helped people affected by leprosy and disability set up small businesses. Through further encouragement they were able to divert their efforts during the lockdowns. For example, instead of making and selling incense sticks, they sold fruit and vegetables from carts and stitched facemasks.

“By simply giving people with disabilities the opportunity to succeed, they lift themselves out of poverty. This is just so wonderful to see. It’s how it should be.”

The disability-inclusive commitments The Leprosy Mission England and Wales will adhere to in all its projects are:

  1. Changing attitudes People with disabilities caused by leprosy are discriminated against because of a lack of understanding. We commit to increasing the number and percentage of our programmes that specifically target stigma.
  2. Disaggregating data by disability, gender and age All our overseas partners will have received training on the importance, collection and use of disaggregated data. We can then accurately evaluate the inclusiveness of our programmes.
  3. Raising up underrepresented groups Our desire is to ensure that the voice of people affected by leprosy and disability is heard. We will have increased the number of organisations of people affected by leprosy and disability. These organisations will have increased capacity to advocate to local and state governments for justice and the inclusion of people with disabilities.
  4. Focusing on mental health Leprosy does not just affect a person physically but has a significant psychological effect on them and their families. We will increase the number of projects that support inner wellbeing.
  5. Engaging people with disabilities in the design of health programmes We will consult with organisations of people affected by leprosy at each stage of every new project, and facilitate their contribution to the development of national leprosy and disability services.