By Ronald Musoke
Uganda has registered an increase in the number of people who are classified as disabled, according to Edison Ngirabakunzi, the executive director of the National Union of Disabled People of Uganda (NUDIPU).
While speaking at the health journalism conference recently, Ngirabakunzi noted that after reviewing data of the 2002 national census, four percent of the population was classified as being disabled. However, the Uganda Demographic and Household Surveys (UDHS) of 2006 and 2011 put the numbers at seven percent and 16% respectively.
He noted that it is not yet clear whether the rise in the number of disabled people is down to improvement of statistical data or there are actually underlying causes of disability in Uganda such as conflict and accidents.
The world is yet to agree on a binding definition of what exactly disabled people are and, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this is because the concept is new and still evolving.
However, the same convention generally agrees that disability results from the interaction between a person’s impairment and obstacles such as physical barriers and prevailing attitudes that prevent them from fully participating in societal engagements.
“The more obstacles there are, the more disabled a person becomes,” the convention reads in part, adding that generally, people with disabilities have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments such as blindness, deafness, impaired mobility and developmental impairment.
“Some people may have more than one form of disability and many, if not most people will acquire a disability at some time in their life due to physical injury, disease or aging.”
Ngirabakunzi who was making the case for the right to health for persons with disabilities said anything that affects an able-bodied person affects a disabled person and therefore it is important for all Ugandans to show concern for the welfare of disabled people.
“Disability is only a secondary definition…A disabled person is a human being first,” he said. He said disabled people face a number of barriers in accessing health care in the country yet they too face a number of health issues that are present in society.
For instance, Ngirabakunzi said, the 2011 HIV/AIDS Indicator survey showed that the AIDS scourge is rising among people with disabilities yet they do not have specialized information to deal with the pandemic.
He added that health facilities are also built in a way that does not favour or make it easy for people with disabilities to access these facilities.
He said since the disabled people in Uganda belong to the voiceless and vulnerable category, it should be the duty of the media to give a mouthpiece for their cause.
“The media should raise the profile of the people with disability to influence policy at the national level,” he said.