Hundreds of people with disabilities fanned out across Cameroon’s capital Monday, protesting against the neglect they say they’ve suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaigners say social distancing rules have discouraged caregiving for the disabled, leaving many more vulnerable to the virus. Cameroon has seen nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases and 276 coronavirus-related deaths, making it one of the worst-affected countries in Africa.
Hundreds of people with disabilities visited markets, churches, mosques and public buildings to remind Cameroonians not to ignore them as the central African country deals with COVID-19.
Among the campaigners was Coco Bertin, founder of the Club for the Rehabilitated Young Blind People of Cameroon. Bertin, who is visually impaired, says there are no braille documents explaining measures to combat coronavirus.
“We heard that there were some posters to sensitize the people about this pandemic, but we can not be aware of it because we can not read. We need the government to get involved and to transcribe these documents,” said Bertin.
The campaign was organized by Jean Pascal Somb Lingom, president of the Association for the Promotion of Assisted Technologies and the Education of the Blind.
Lingom, who is also visually impaired, said the government did not contact people living with special needs when explaining COVID-19 prevention measures.
“People who are on wheelchairs need specific measures to be able to have access to hand washing facilities to limit being contaminated by the virus. Hearing impaired persons need facilities that can help them have access to adequate information so that they can know what to do and how to do it so that they will not be affected,” he said.
A tap with a bucket and a bar of soap is available for students to wash their hands as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Lycée Général Leclerc School in Yaoundé, Cameroon, June 1, 2020.
Lingom said blind people cannot see buckets and soap kept in public places for people to wash their hands and avoid COVID 19. He said social distancing measures have scared caregivers from assisting them for fear of being contaminated.
He said people living with disabilities are becoming poorer because they find it difficult to do business or to go to their offices without help.
An estimated three million of Cameroon’s 25 million people are living with disabilities.
Eric Tanda, director of health in the Health Ministry, said the government has started examining what he calls pertinent issues raised for Cameroon’s disabled.
Speaking by telephone in Yaounde, Tanda said the disabled, such as the hard of hearing, need to follow measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“The government, especially the ministry of public health, has provided somebody who interprets this message to them by using the sign symbol. Once in the community, they should try as much as possible to respect physical distancing while with their masks on.”
The government recommends everyone wash their hands regularly, keep a distance of at least a meter and a half from others, and always wear face masks to avoid spreading or catching the coronavirus.