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Nigeria's Disabled Hard Hit by COVID Challenges

FILE - A visually impaired man climbs the stairs at a building where he lives, in Lagos, Nigeria, May 5, 2020.
FILE - A visually impaired man climbs the stairs at a building where he lives, in Lagos, Nigeria, May 5, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life harder for everyone, but especially people with disabilities, who feel more marginalized than ever before. People in a disabled community in Nigeria’s capital are coping as best they can, but are still in need of assistance.

Physically challenged Nigerian Salamatu Abubakar has four children and is pregnant with another.

Without her sight and any source of income, Abubakar says she has trouble getting by, and sometimes has to beg to survive.

She also notes the coronavirus pandemic has made the challenge even harder.

She says since the pandemic began, "we've struggled to feed our children, we don't have any money. We had to stop our children from going to school."

About 27 million Nigerians live with disabilities and constitute a third of the country's poorest people, according to aid and advocacy groups focusing on disabled people.

Abubakar lives at an Abuja community for the disabled, where there are 600 people, most of whom depend in some way on support from aid groups.

Community secretary Mohammed Dantani says even that is hard to come by since the pandemic started a year ago.

"Before you [could] see somebody come to this community to give help, before it used to be every two or three days but now it takes three to four weeks before you see some assistance,” Dantani said.

To manage the situation, some women in the community are tackling the pandemic with a savings cooperative plan, with each person contributing money each week.

Since it began last August, women like Abubakar say they have benefited from the plan.

"I'm very happy about this contribution. One time when my child was sick, they gave me about 14 dollars. I used the money to take my child to the hospital," Abubakar said.

Nigeria passed its disability bill into law in 2019 and created a National Disability Commission last August to address issues facing the disabled.

Commission member Musa Muazu says the government’s coronavirus response has not taken deaf people and other disabled into account.

"In the issue of the information dissemination, there are a lot of programs around sensitizing people, but the question is how inclusive are the programs? Do we have sign language interpreters?" Muazu asked.

Advocates like Muazu are ensuring the commission promotes the interests of people like Abubakar to get the support they desperately need.