With just over 7-million vaccines administered, physically disabled people feel that they have been left behind.
While government’s message on vaccine inoculation has been consistent on categories of workers, who of a certain age, need to be vaccinated, many disabled people across the country are concerned that the same message has not been extended to them. They are equally at risk and believe they too will count in government’s ambition to achieve herd immunity.
These are people who are mainly bound at home and on wheelchairs because they are paraplegic, quadriplegic, or living with cerebral palsy. Others are limping and walking with the aid of crutches. Due to these physical challenges, moving from point A to B is extremely difficult. Most vaccination sites are quite far from them and aside from the transport being expensive, it is not wheelchair-friendly as well.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve spoken to the local taxi associations to do something on their taxis for the disabled. It seems our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. For me to be able to fit myself and my wheelchair in a taxi, I need quite a space therefore I’ll have to pay for almost half or a quarter of the Avanza which is R10 per single trip. So we really wish our government can meet us half way and vaccinate us in our homes. Otherwise, the majority of us won’t be vaccinated,” says 46-year-old paraplegic, Harold Manciya of Alexandra township, who hasn’t yet been vaccinated and feels he’ll remain like this if nothing changes the plight of disabled people.
His counterpart in Lephalale, Limpopo, Rosina Mosima, is also paraplegic and, who is yet to be inoculated, agrees, “I fail to understand such inconsistencies. I’ve been following the president’s speeches both on TV and radio; he hasn’t said anything on the disabled people’s access to vaccine. During elections we fall under the same category with the pensioners where there are special votes and we vote at home. We’d hope they do the same unless elections are more important than vaccine. My site is also far. I need to take a taxi. I stay in Hlongwane 3 and the site is in Hlongwane 1.”
Mosima’s legs were amputated due to a chronic disease. She was a promising soccer star who had earned the nickname, ‘Baggio’.
In Durban, KZN, Monwabisi Mbopha who has just received his first jab, welcomes the relief and found the process less inconvenient than in his area. “Here in town, Sukuma buses are wheelchair friendly and the site is quite nearer. I feel and understand the frustrations of my peers in villages.”
Michael Mokgahla of Extension 9 in Alexandra also stays close to a vaccination site. Limping on crutches, he went to the site at Altrek Sports Ground. He has just received his second Pfizer jab. “I don’t know if I should I say I’m lucky or it was a coincidence that I stay closer. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. Transport for people like us here is a big problem. There are few taxi drivers with a good heart.”
Thomas Matlhatji of Ithabeleng Disabled Organisation in Alexandra says they only have one minibus and that is not enough to accommodate their 281 members if they have to take them to the vaccination site. “Due to its constant need of maintenance and petrol costs, honestly that cannot be guaranteed,” he says.
“We are fighting and hoping for a breakthrough. At this moment, we are busy collecting names and signatures of disabled people that need to be vaccinated at their homes to make a stronger case. We are hoping the department will consider it,” says Therina Wentzel Du Toit, the director of the National Council for and of Persons with Disability.
In Eastern Cape, Mxolisi Spondo, speaking for the office of the premier, says disabled people mustn’t panic because they have health promoters on the ground to assess the situation and should there be a need for a vaccine to be taken at homes, arrangements would be made.
Foster Mohale from the national Department of Health agrees: “Vaccinees who are unable to go to the sites can be assisted at home; all they or family members need to do is to approach the community healthcare workers servicing their communities, or the manager at the vaccination site, to make an arrangement for home vaccination.”