Save the Children Philippines has raised concern on the situation of children with disabilities who continue to miss out on critical health services including rehabilitation and therapy due to extended quarantine under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines called on local government units (LGUs) to integrate programs for children with disabilities in the revised quarantine measures to sustain their health, education, and developmental needs.
“Children with disabilities continue to face social exclusion, discrimination and the lack of health services and therapy during quarantine which could lead to lifelong and devastating impact in their development,” said Muyot.
He said local health centers should explore innovative, albeit remote ways, to support families, guardians of children with disabilities to conduct therapy, and provide medicines and psychosocial and counseling support while major cities and municipalities remain under quarantine.
A mother of three, Merlina, 26, worries about her children Anna* and Elmer* aged 5 and 6 who still could not talk. She tries her best to talk to them but the siblings would merely smile, frown, or giggle.
Merlina, who breastfeeds her youngest, faces compounding problems when her husband loss his job as a construction worker in Laguna, following the lockdown. Merlina and some 25 families used to live in shanties in Pasay City. They were relocated in a town in Tanay, Rizal where access to electricity and water are limited to none at all.
Save the Children Philippines provided food packs including vegetables and fruits, hygiene kits, and information materials on protection from COVID-19 to Merlina’s family along with 25 families in the resettlement site in Tanay.
“While the current crisis poses complex challenges, it encourages us to innovate and collaborate with each other to support the most vulnerable children,” said Sierra Paraan, Basic Education Advisor of Save the Children Philippines.
She said children with disabilities need utmost care and support, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Government response plans should clearly indicate support and action for children with disabilities, particularly those who are in deprived situations and living in hard-to-reach areas,” Paraan added.
The quarantine measures have serious impacts on the lives of children with disabilities and their families due to lack of access to education services, day care centers, child development centers, and supervised neighborhood programs.
Parents and caregivers face loss of income and livelihood opportunities due to quarantine, thus, depriving their children with disabilities to get access to essential services such as therapy and rehabilitation.
Paraan said children with disabilities miss out learning opportunities, and are at risk to suffering domestic abuse and violence, as loss of income among parents and guardians trigger heightened stress, anger and anxiety.
Save the Children Philippines implements the Kasali (Kabataang Aralin sa Lahat Ibahagi), an innovative approach to engage home, schools, government, and communities to respond to the needs of children with disabilities.
The child rights group is strongly advocating the enactment of Inclusive Education for Learners with Disabilities bill that focuses on the responsibility of the education system, parents and communities to adapt to the learning needs of learners with disabilities.
“We call for the strengthening of collaboration between the government and Disability Peoples’ Organization, civil society, parent groups and the private sector who should be part of the COVID-19 response,” said Paraan.