Barriers to health care related to disability and COVID-19

People with disabilities frequently face barriers that prevent them accessing health care and treatment. These barriers can be both structural and attitudinal. In times of crisis it can become even more difficult to access care due to lack of accommodations and disruption of routine health service provision.

In the second blog of a series that summarises learning from our Twitter Chat on Disability and COVID-19 we discuss barriers to health care. Participants in the Chat emphasised that there are multiple barriers to routine treatment and care which are frequently experienced by people with disabilities. In times of crisis these barriers are often made worse.

As services considered less essential are shut down to release health care workers to support the response to COVID-19 we may see a reduction in rehabilitation services, hampering recovery. There was also concern about the availability of medicines, for example anti-convulsants, if the health system is severely compromised.

Restrictive policy measures such as lockdowns and curfews may interrupt home care services and the flow of other essentials such as food into the households of disabled people. It may lead to police brutality against people with disabilities who leave the home to survive.

People with disabilities face an ongoing struggle in realising their right to health. This is influenced by their gender, geography, social location, societal priorities and attitudes which intersect with disability type to create inequities in health service access. This is not new but is highlighted during a crisis like COVID-19.

Structural barriers include: inaccessible communication (for example, lack of sign language, braille, pictorials or simple language); health facilities that are difficult to access because they are far away or there are bad roads and poor transport infrastructure; and financial barriers because of treatment costs and limited money to pay for health services or transport.

Attitudinal barriers, particularly of health providers are also a problem. As @WurieHaja explained, ‘in some contexts, the disabled are seen, but not seen’.

The Covid-19 pandemic could be an opportunity to raise the importance of addressing challenges and barriers lived daily by people with disabilities, a mechanism to communicate and demonstrate challenges to people in power.

<<Find out more about this series of blogs on disability and COVID-19