SIERRA LEONE: Don't forget disabled in country's development
Sehid Souleymane Conteh, an artist in Freetown, says people with physical disabilities have countless skills to contribute to society
DAKAR, 13 April 2010 (IRIN) - People with disabilities must be taken into account in Sierra Leone’s development and poverty reduction plans, say the authors of a new study
on living conditions of the country’s disabled.
The study was developed by the UK-based NGO Leonard Cheshire Disability
The authors – who call the study a “snapshot” and a first step for further research – hope it will help clarify the disabled community’s most pressing needs as the government and its partners rebuild infrastructure and social services.
“The disabled community’s voice is generally a voice that is not heard in discussions of development,” Bentry Kalanga, LCD senior programme manager for Africa.
“Up to now disability has not been regarded as a major development issue; it must be highlighted more.”
While disability has received some attention in the years following the 1991-2002 civil war – in which thousands of people had limbs cut off – the authors say little data is yet available about people with disabilities in Sierra Leone.
The study finds that in many socioeconomic domains such as material wealth and housing, disabled people in the urban areas studied are not dramatically worse off than non-disabled. Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries and eight years after the war living conditions remain dire for many.
“This points to the background of the country. The war left everyone with almost nothing and the country has to undergo a lot of rebuilding,” Kalanga told IRIN.
Still the survey did show that people with disabilities have less access to education, health care and employment than non-disabled, in a country where such access is already quite low.
Over twice as many people with disabilities than non-disabled have no access to health care – 16.4 percent compared to 7.1 percent, the study shows.
Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
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Some 1.5 percent of people with severe or very severe disabilities are able to receive social welfare and benefits, compared to 12.4 percent of respondents with no disabilities and 14.3 percent with mild or moderate disabilities.
The disabled are also more exposed to rape and physical abuse, the study found.
Researchers surveyed non-disabled people as well as people with moderate disability and with severe disability to compare daily living conditions among the groups.
A part to play
Polio-disabled people living in the capital Freetown told IRIN they do not want special treatment – simply the same basic services and rights as any citizen.
“We are all human beings,” said Edward Mustapha, secretary general of House of Jesus, an association for disabled people in downtown Freetown.
“Moreover we are citizens of this land. We have a part to play in nation-building, despite our deformity.”
Sehid Souleymane Conteh spoke to IRIN as he was designing t-shirts for a local football team. He teaches young men the skill.
“Most of them would go into the street to beg otherwise. To be disabled, it doesn’t mean you lose your ability. You can do something with your head. I’d like to further my studies and teach other generations so I won’t see my disabled brothers in the streets.”
The LCD report says that among disabled and non-disabled alike, most Sierra Leoneans count primarily on family and friends for social and economic support. “The extended family in many low income countries is an important source of support and help for members traditionally seen as vulnerable. This highlights the necessity of ensuring the inclusion of families and communities when designing programmes and policies.”
The study was done in and around urban areas in June-July 2009; while the results cannot be said to represent the entire country they do indicate important trends, the authors say. LCD plans to expand the research to rural areas of the country.
The Sierra Leone government in July 2009 ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and is currently working on national legislation to ensure compliance.