Addressing Autism in Hong Kong
Of every 100,000 children in Hong Kong, 372 suffer from autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder or autism affects an individual’s nervous system and causes developmental delays. This condition varies in severity in each case, and symptoms mostly consist of recurring body movements, odd fascination towards certain things and trouble speaking and interacting with others. Left unattended, autism in adulthood often results in loss of employment and difficulty focusing in school. The Aoi Pui School, Autism Partnership and Heep Hong Society are all addressing autism in Hong Kong and improving lives by helping children integrate into ordinary schools and teaching vital work skills.

Aoi Pui School

Researchers who wanted to provide quality education to children with autism in Hong Kong founded Aoi Pui School (APS) in 2007. More specifically, the institution teaches fundamental work skills to its students. Every student at APS enrolls in a program that educates the children about professional competence. In the program, students learn about the importance of maintaining a positive work ethic, approaching work with enthusiasm, comprehending the responsibilities and knowing the privileges.

Autism Partnership

The Autism Partnership (AP) came to Hong Kong in 1999 and strives to offer effective treatment to children with autism. AP works towards integrating autistic children into mainstream schools and society. It offers two programs called The Buddies and i-Club to encourage autistic children to develop their social skills. The Buddies program targets first, second and third graders and educates the students on how to maintain relationships with their peers. The i-Club program focuses on children heading to middle school and teaches the children how to calm down, control their feelings, consider the point of view of others, establish relationships, respectfully play with others and start dialogues.

AP also helps children successfully join mainstream schools. First, an AP employee sets up a specific plan with the institution. Then, AP educates counselors at the school about the child’s particular case. Next, the organization checks on the success of the student and changes the child’s plan when problems arise. Lastly, the student relies less on the counselors and navigates school individually.

Heep Hong Society

Since 1963, Heep Hong Society strives to improve the lives of minors with disabilities and different backgrounds. In particular, the organization assists older autistic children in obtaining and retaining jobs. First, the Heep Hong Society gives personal guidance to each adolescent. In the one-on-one discussions, the organization discovers the young adult’s passions, talents and attributes to help connect the students with dream jobs and assist them in issues regarding socialization, studying and employment. Also, the Heep Hong Society works with local companies to secure jobs and scholarships for its students.

Conclusion

All in all, Aoi Pui School, Autism Partnership and Heep Hong Society strive to help children with autism in Hong Kong enroll in mainstream schools and obtain employment. With the help of these organizations, autistic youth can retain independence and live above the poverty line.

– Samantha Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

Wheelchair DonationThere are 100 million people in the world who need a wheelchair. However, of this number, an estimated 75 million can not afford one. A low-cost standard wheelchair costs anywhere from $100 to $300. In countries where families live on less than a dollar a day, that cost is astronomical. Therefore, they rely on wheelchair donations.

From genetic disorders to infections that require amputation, people need a wheelchair for any number of reasons. In Sierra Leone, 1,600 people are amputees due to the devastating civil war that ended in 2002. Countries in Africa that have been hard-hit by Ebola, Malaria and other diseases are home to thousands of people that need wheelchairs but can’t afford them.

These people regain their sense of dignity and self-worth when they can move freely on their own. Without the assistance of a wheelchair, they have to rely on others to get from place to place. This makes school and work extremely difficult. With a wheelchair, people with physical disabilities can bring themselves to work and school, breaking themselves out of the vicious cycle of disability and poverty. Here are three organizations that are helping to make mobility a reality for people through wheelchair donations.

Walkabout Foundation

The brother and sister team Luis and Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster founded Walkabout Foundation in 2009. In 1994, Luis suffered damage to his spinal cord in a car accident. The injury paralyzed him and doctors told him he would never walk again.

Since its creation, Walkabout Foundation has donated 17,400 wheelchairs to people living in poverty in 25 countries. The foundation has also raised $1.642 million for research and founded two rehabilitation centers, one in India and the other in Kenya.

“Walkabout Foundation restores dignity, freedom and independence by providing wheelchairs and rehabilitation in the developing world and funding research to find a cure for paralysis,” the foundation’s homepage reads.

Free Wheelchair Mission

Free Wheelchair Mission is a faith-based organization that raises money for and donates wheelchairs to developing countries. It celebrates its official 20th anniversary this year.

The organization builds its own wheelchairs, which engineers have designed with cost efficiency and availability in mind. For example, the wheelchairs’ wheels are bicycle wheels because bicycles are a common mode of transportation almost anywhere in the world, making replacement parts for the wheelchairs easy to find and install.

In the 22 years since Founder and President Don Schoendorfer started producing and donating wheelchairs, Free Wheelchair Mission has donated more than 1.2 million wheelchairs in 94 countries.

Latter-day Saint Charities

Latter-day Saint (LDS) Charities is the humanitarian section of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among its many charitable outreaches, it provides not only wheelchairs but also education on how to maintain and build wheelchairs so that community members can build their own wheelchairs.

In 2018 alone, LDS Charities made 53,800 wheelchair donations in 40 different countries. Volunteers work together with local governments and non-governmental groups to distribute wheelchairs and provide training for those receiving wheelchairs, their loved ones and their communities. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, LDS Charities made 21,365 wheelchair donations in 2020.

Vulnerable groups receiving these wheelchair donations from the three organizations and others alike have their lives changed forever. The gift of mobility is irreplaceable and invaluable, improving the living conditions of those with physical disabilities.

– Holly Dorman
Photo: Flickr

Organizations Tackling COVID-19 in Africa
Since its start, COVID-19 has impacted countries worldwide. Citizens have lost jobs, and countries have taken an economic nosedive. Regions already suffering from poverty prior to the pandemic feel the ramifications of COVID-19 most severely. One particular region is Africa. Several organizations are dedicating efforts to providing aid in Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger has been providing aid to Africa for more than 40 years to fight hunger and malnutrition. Additionally, the organization works to improve nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene, mental healthcare and support and emergency response. In 2019 alone, the organization reached 17 million people in need. In the previous year, Action Against Hunger joined the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) as one of the 14 charities committed to providing aid during major humanitarian disasters.

Meril Cullinan, senior communications officer at Action Against Hunger, describes the motivation behind the continued aid in Africa throughout the pandemic: “According to the United Nations, the number of people globally suffering from acute food shortages could nearly double in the next year due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts; in East Africa, food insecurity could double in just the next three months.” In addition to Africa, Action Against Hunger has provided support to the only hospital for those in quarantine in Somalia and has treated 31,000 people suffering from malnutrition across 60 healthcare facilities in Yemen.

Amref Health Africa

Amref Health Africa originated in 1957 under the name “Flying Doctors of East Africa.” At the time, the nonprofit used airplanes to deliver healthcare to communities in need. Over time, Amref Health Africa expanded into what it is today—an aid and advocacy organization with a devotion to providing West, East and southern African citizens, particularly women and girls, with quality health services and training for healthcare workers. Services include maternal healthcare, newborn and child healthcare, and information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In 2019, the nonprofit reached five million people in need across 40 countries in Africa. Amref has assisted in stopping deadly outbreaks within Africa, such as Ebola and cholera; “The whole Amref Health Africa family is working towards [sic] the ambitious goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030.” The focus of Amref Health Africa’s response to COVID-19 has been training healthcare workers, providing access to clean water and proper sanitation, strengthening testing and laboratories and mitigating the secondary impacts of the pandemic.

Successes so far include building water and sanitation infrastructure in six African countries, training 3,000 healthcare workers through the mobile phone application LEAP, expanding COVID-19 testing throughout Africa and advocating for access to crucial services during the lockdown. Camilla Knox-Peebles, chief executive of Amref Health Africa, describes the response to providing aid during COVID-19: “As well as launching new initiatives to support communities affected by COVID-19, we have adapted our existing programmes to ensure they can continue.”

Motivation

Motivation began in 1989 after two students, David Constantine and Simon Gue, entered a competition to design a wheelchair for people with disabilities in developing countries. After their prototype won, they went on to build an actual wheelchair, and the rest is history. Motivation has been building wheelchairs fit for various terrains and conditions in developing countries, particularly East Africa, ever since. The organization also provides training to technicians and clinicians on how to select the proper equipment for particular needs and geographic areas. The 2019-2020 impact report has revealed that the organization serviced 6,918 people, trained 312 families and facilitators, supported 68 wheelchair and outreach services and gave 8,816 people an assistive technology product.

Motivation’s aid in Africa has had to adapt to the COVID-19 climate and its safety precautions. Virtual support has replaced face-to-face programs. The organization has also found ways to deliver food, medical supplies and hygiene products to those in need. Anna Reeve, communications manager at Motivation, says that “We are finding ways to offer training and support remotely as much as we can. And we’re are working to ensure that disabled people’s needs are not forgotten in this crisis. Our teams are in touch with beneficiaries and partners by phone and text messages to share advice.”

Looking Ahead

The entire world has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many parts of the world are in lockdowns, many people are without food, supplies, medical services and other crucial resources. Thankfully, organizations exist that have a dedication to using modern technological advances to continue supporting developing regions. COVID-19 aid in Africa is essential in order to keep up the progress that has taken decades to achieve. Organizations like Action Against Hunger, Amref Health Africa and Motivation are demonstrating the ways the world’s citizens can continue to help each other in times of need.

– Sage Ahrens-Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Disabilities in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a small nation in Central Asia. It is west of China and south of Kazakhstan. In 2019, this former Soviet country ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). Kyrgyzstan is now part of it along with 180 other countries. The approval of the CRPD showcases the progress that various organizations have made in recent years toward creating a more inclusive Kyrgyzstan. This is of vital importance to more than 31,000 registered children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan who often lack basic civil rights.

Barriers to Inclusion

Since Soviet rule, the prevailing mindset in Kyrgyzstan is that people with disabilities require fixing. This has led to the development of stigmas against people with disabilities, and in turn, their exclusion from daily life. This can take the form of the children not receiving an education, and having limited access to health and rehabilitation services and institutional placement. According to UNICEF, in 2012, more than 3,200 children and teenagers with disabilities were living in institutions. Here, they often face inhumane treatment. For example, Human Rights Watch documented that staff use “psychotropic drugs or forced psychiatric hospitalization to control children’s behavior and punish them.” This kind of treatment is harmful and can result in an overdose.

Learning Better Together

In 2018, the Kyrgyzstan government launched several initiatives with the intention of fostering inclusion. One of these initiatives is the Learning Better Together Initiative. This is a partnership between USAID, the Ministry of Education and Science of Kyrgyzstan and UNICEF. UNICEF is responsible for placing children with disabilities or special needs in local schools. Teachers received training on how to work with children with disabilities and how to identify areas in which students need extra help.

There were 20 schools that participated in the pilot program. Each one received grants to use as they best saw fit. For example, the school in Kok-Sai used the grant to build a dance room and purchase exercise equipment to help children with disabilities improve their physical health.

While the main focus of the Learning Better Together Initiative is children with disabilities, it also implemented multilingual education. At least 20 school settings practiced this concept during the pilot program. These programs are important for a multiethnic nation like Kyrgyzstan.

Open the Door to the Child!

“Open the door to the child!” is a UNICEF public campaign. It is in partnership with the Osh and Bishkek Mayor’s office that informed the public about children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. Billboards displayed advertisements that talked about accepting those with disabilities. Similar posters and banners hung on bus stops and city lights. The stories of children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan, including their trials and victories, aired on local television throughout the Osh Oblast (region).

Additionally, kindergartens handed out bilingual pamphlets to parents, outlining how to connect with children with disabilities. Psychology and sociology students came to kindergartens to teach how to make friends with others, including those who have disabilities.

UNICEF’s Early Identification and Early Intervention Programme for Children with Disabilities is a program that sends health care workers to homes with newborns and children to screen for health issues and disabilities. Currently, UNICEF is striving for early detection in children 8-years-old and under to ensure they get adequate health services. UNICEF is also aiming to prevent a child’s health from worsening.

Buchur

Buchur is a daycare center in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, which specializes in working with children with disabilities. Founded by UNICEF, the city now runs and finances the daycare center itself. Here, children with disabilities between the ages of 2 and 16 can learn skills and interact with one another instead of facing isolation at home. Furthermore, it facilitates a smooth integration into kindergarten or school. Buchur also tutors children from mainstream schools who need help with homework. Similar facilities are uncommon in Kyrgyzstan.

Basketball for All

Inspired by a similar Ukrainian program, Basketball for All teaches kids with down syndrome or autism the skills and teamwork needed to play basketball. Administered by World Link and FLEX alumni, this is the first project of its kind in Kyrgyzstan. Organizers integrate parent and student feedback into the program to ensure it has the desired effect on students. Though the COVID-19 pandemic cut the initial run of the program short, the organizers have expressed interest in continuing the program after the pandemic.

Kelechek Plus

Kelechek Plus is an organization that focuses on issues surrounding children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. One of its programs focuses on building inclusive playgrounds for children. These playgrounds help expose non-disabled children to children with disabilities and vice versa. This is important to the mental and emotional needs of the children. Kelechek Plus has built playgrounds in various cities around Kyrgyzstan, such as Osh and Karakol. A wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round is an example of the type of structures that parents could find at one of Kelechek Plus’ playgrounds.

The progress that Kyrgyzstan has made over the last few years has been valuable in regard to the inclusion of children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. However, most NPO and government initiatives affect mainly the cities, leaving the rural areas in need of social and academic services. Government assistance in rural areas needs to occur. However, the success of current inclusive programs could serve as a roadmap throughout Kyrgyzstan.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

Wheelchairs in Colombia
The country of Colombia is a land with four distinct geographic locations. In its Pacific and Caribbean lowlands are rolling hills that stretch east and reach the Amazon Rainforest. Both the Andes Mountains and the Cordillera Central mountain range run through the country as well. However, it is difficult for those who suffer debilitating physical injuries to travel around the country. As a result, wheelchairs in Colombia have improved many lives.

Colombia’s Half-Century of Conflict

The government of Colombia has conflicted with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) since the 1960s. As such, the conflict between the Colombian government has resulted in the displacement of 5.7 million people along with many deaths and disappearances. Additionally, there have also been paramilitary groups operating in the country that have contributed to the violence.

Improved Mobility for Victims of Conflict

Survivors of this long conflict have ended up with serious physical injuries. Many people have lost the ability to walk. This is especially troublesome when it comes to navigating around a country with various landscapes. In Colombia, around 200,000 people were living with a physical disability that resulted from the conflict. About 12,000 of them sustained injuries from anti-personnel landmines.

Researchers from various universities in Colombia realized that many of their fellow countrymen can no longer walk and have no way to get around their own country. Thus, these researchers set forth to create a solution called the All-Terrain Chair. These wheelchairs in Colombia had the specific design of helping people who suffered injuries from the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, these wheelchairs largely comprise magnesium, which is not only a strong material but extremely affordable as well.

MATT

The Colombian startup that people know as Mobility, Accessibility, Time and Work (MATT) has helped people with physical disabilities by providing them with employment. For example, MATT has organized three-hour wheelchair tours throughout the city of Medellin. People who can and cannot walk are welcome to join the tours. Furthermore, people with physical disabilities lead these tours. Wilson Guzman lost the use of his legs at the age of 17. Thus, these tours not only allow him to see the sights of Medellin but also gives the tourists who can walk a perspective on what it is like to not have the use of their legs.

Colombia’s economic productivity is low and has caused the economic growth of the country to lag. Additionally, Colombia has a sizable infrastructure gap. Despite the dire economic circumstances that the country is in, the government is doing its absolute best to provide jobs and a mode of reliable transportation for physically disabled people. The implementation of these wheelchairs in Colombia is a great first step in improving people’s lives.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

World Forgotten ChildrenWith poverty rates rising in developing countries, raising a family can be financially taxing. As 10% of the worldwide population lives on less than $1.90 per day, there are millions of individuals who cannot provide basic necessities for their children. When a child has a physical or cognitive disability, parents face an additional barrier when addressing the children’s needs. In dire circumstances, some parents are left with no choice but to place their children in orphanages. The World Forgotten Children Foundation (WFCF) focuses efforts on helping impoverished orphans, especially those with disabilities.

Orphans Living in Poverty

Globally, there are 153 million children who are orphans and a large portion of these children are found in developing countries. Additionally, it is estimated that eight to 10 million children with disabilities are living in orphanages. Orphanages in impoverished areas often lack access to adequate resources, especially for children who need extra care for specific disabilities. The facilities fall short on appropriate education, economic stability and infrastructure.

The World Forgotten Children Foundation is a nonprofit organization that focuses on addressing the link between poverty and orphaned children, with an emphasis on helping disabled orphaned children in developing countries. The organization understands the value of also addressing the needs of the community rather than simply targeting the orphaned children.

Helping Children Affected by Cerebral Palsy

In 2017, the WFCF supported the International China Concern (ICC), an organization that takes care of more than 350 children and young adults with disabilities across China, many of who have been abandoned since birth. In China, approximately two million children have cerebral palsy. This group of disorders is the most common motor disability for children and prevents an individual from properly moving and maintaining balance and posture. Children with cerebral palsy struggle to straighten their bodies enough to fall asleep due to spinal postural deformities and those with severe cases are at risk of more serious health issues if they are unable to sleep in an adequate position. Between 23% to 46% of children living with cerebral palsy suffer from sleep issues due to pain, discomfort, seizures and skin ulcers. Also, sleep deprivation can cause development problems.

The ICC’s mission is to use postural management to protect the body shape and to minimize life-limiting deformity. The WFCF funded $10,277 to provide custom-fitted sleep aid systems for 14 children. The sleep aid systems improved the children’s physical and emotional health and well-being.

Handicapes en Avant Project

Handicapes en Avant is a French charity group based in West Africa focused on improving and facilitating the everyday lives of those with disabilities. The WFCF partnered with the Dokimoi Ergatai program of Messiah College to fund $7,800 worth of equipment. Through the partnership, the project provided physically disadvantaged children with hand-powered tricycles, enabling the children to have increased mobility. Additionally, visual assist items for computers were purchased in order to support children with visual disabilities in West Africa. Also, in Burkina Faso, funding was provided for the development of the first electric tricycle for the handicapped children of the Handicapes Avant facility. Additionally, blind orphans at the Handicapes en Avant school were provided with drawing boards to make relief drawings, Braille writing tablets and several other educational materials.

Improving the Lives of Orphans

The World Forgotten Children Foundation recognizes the many challenges of orphaned children, especially those with disabilities. The organization works to amplify the health and welfare of these disabled children. Plans for more support projects are in the pipeline. One project at a time, the Foundation is improving the lives of orphans in developing countries.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare for Disabled PopulationsWorldwide, estimates have determined that more than 1 billion individuals live with some form of disability. In developing countries, access to healthcare is difficult enough with rural areas being far from main health centers and low socioeconomic status preventing optimal diagnosis and treatment. For disabled populations, low mobility leads to transportation difficulty, creating an additional barrier that compromises health and access to the nearest healthcare providers. Established in 1998, the Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT) is a United Kingdom-based nonprofit organization that focuses on providing healthcare for disabled patients in developing countries through increased access to telehealth.

Disability as a Public Health Issue

Although 15% of the world lives with a form of disability, every person experiences varying limitations and healthcare needs. Article 25 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that those living with disabilities must receive the highest former of care without discrimination. Despite some countries upholding Article 25, many developing countries cannot provide the proper care for disabled individuals.

Beyond discrimination experienced in the health sector, individuals with disabilities face various barriers to healthcare. To begin, they typically encounter prohibitive costs for health services and transportation since a disability can create the need for a specially adapted vehicle in order to travel to the nearest healthcare professional. Estimates have stated that more than half of people experiencing a disability are unable to cover the costs they incur in healthcare, compared to approximately a third of people for those who are able-bodied. Also, physical barriers prevent disabled people from being able to access certain buildings and essential medical appointments. Inaccessible medical equipment, poor signage and inadequate bathroom facilities all comprise potential barriers. For example, medical professionals can often deny disabled women breast and cervical screening since the tables are not adjustable to one’s height and mammography equipment cannot accommodate women who are unable to stand.

The Swinfen Charitable Trust’s Mission

The Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT) focuses on the disabled population of the developing world. SCT creates telemedicine links between healthcare centers in the developing world and medical professionals globally, who provide complementary diagnosis and treatment services. SCT represents the longest operating telemedicine nonprofit in existence. To date, there are 366 referring hospitals and more than 700 specialists providing their expertise to disabled people in developing countries free of charge. People can download the app called SCT Telemedicine on mobile phones and SCT has established telemedical links in 78 countries.

SCT raises money that goes toward improving the telemedicine experience and accessibility for disabled patients in developing countries. To begin, financial contributions provide round-the-clock system operators who have the task of analyzing and allocating new cases to specialists. Also, the money raised grants on-site support to partners for telemedical coverage implementation in local communities. This is especially crucial in remote areas of the developing world. Finally, any additional funds are allocated to expanding care to new countries or villages that are struggling to deliver adequate healthcare for disabled populations.

Improving the Lives of the Vulnerable

With a rising technologically dependent world, the Swinfen Charitable Trust is attempting to bridge the gap between poverty and healthcare access in developing countries, particularly for vulnerable populations. By establishing the means for disabled populations to access telemedicine, the disabled population can overcome healthcare barriers and improve their quality of life and life expectancy significantly.

– Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in AfghanistanEvery day, people all throughout Afghanistan face not only the public health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic but also a lack of accessibility to food, employment and a sense of stability. A study by Jean-Francois Trani and Washington University in St. Louis discussed how challenges like these may lead to both increased poverty and increased disability. They also identified how disability and poverty may overlap or compound the suffering of individuals. Here is some information about the link between disability and poverty in Afghanistan.

Challenges for Children in Afghanistan

In an environment with varying challenges, illness, injury, neglect and malnourishment can lead to lifelong health concerns and disability for children. Likewise, the chronic stress of struggling to sustain the life of a family in the midst of violence and trauma may also lead to debilitating psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. This is the crisis of disability and poverty in Afghanistan.

Mothers and grandmothers like Haji Rizva (only identified by the first name for her safety), struggle to feed their children. She thinks specifically of her 18-month-old granddaughter, Parvana, who had been constantly vomiting and too weak to move for days. “We didn’t have enough to feed her,” Haji Rizva told NPR while waiting in the ward for malnourished children at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. “Sometimes we only have tea for two, three days. We don’t even have bread.”

Around the same time, and in the same city, fathers like Kahn Wali Kamran told the Associated Press that they fear finding their young children dead when they return home from work each day. With a surge in large bombings, targeted killings and other forms of crime (including armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom), the future appears increasingly dangerous and uncertain.

The Link Between Disability and Poverty in Afghanistan

The Asia Foundation studies suggest that 17% of Afghan citizens suffer from some form of disability and 8.9% have severe impairments and are dependent on others. Additionally, after decades of uninterrupted conflict, the Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) noted that despite the lack of comprehensive study and measurement of mental health in such a volatile region, it conservatively estimated that more than half of the population suffers from some form of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Halfway across the world, Trani’s 2012 study examining the links between poverty and disability using data from Afghanistan and Zambia has become relevant once again. The study noted that it is logical that disabled individuals may be more likely to be poor, as they have a higher cost of living, and a diminished ability to perform certain tasks, especially those they may require for employment. People with PTSD may be unable to complete tasks, communicate effectively and stay calm, making it harder to acquire and maintain employment. However, poverty and disability as concepts are difficult to define, as they both take many dimensions into consideration.

Defining Poverty

Generally, the amount of income a household earns determines poverty status, and what necessary commodities that the family in that household would be able to acquire. However, because all households have different needs and expenses, this is an unreliable measurement. Instead, the capability to live in a state of well-being, and have a reasonable life expectancy, quality nourishment and shelter, basic education and access to health care should be factors when considering poverty. Trani noted that low income is a cause of poverty, not the definition of poverty. In this way, violence, too, is a cause of poverty, and so is disability.

This creates an unforgiving cycle that allows both poverty and disability to increase in prevalence. When a person is in poverty, like Kamran or Haji Rizva, they are unable to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. Without proper shelter and protection, Kamran’s children are more likely to suffer severe injury, potentially leading to lifelong physical disability. Likewise, without proper nutrition, Parvana and other kids like her are less likely to grow and develop properly leading to weakened muscles, bones and organ systems. Poverty, in this case, causes injury. Injury then causes disability. This lowers employment opportunities, causing disabled individuals to fall further into poverty, putting them at greater risk of traumatic stress, further injury and other sufferings. This is the cycle of poverty and disability that has captured Afghanistan for decades.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan

Fortunately, OCHA has recently updated its ongoing Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan to take greater action to help marginalized groups through the violence and the pandemic.

“Given the scale of vulnerability in Afghanistan, this effort will be guided by a range of both new and well-established technical working groups focused on gender, disability inclusion, gender-based violence (GBV), child protection, accountability to affected people (AAP) and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA)” wrote Parvathy Ramaswani in the plan’s updated introduction.

OCHA Measures

The efforts in regards to the pandemic will be largely consistent with others around the world, introducing sanitation protocols and vaccine distribution to the best of their ability, as reducing the spread of the pandemic will naturally provide relief to people caught in the poverty-disability cycle. As in developed countries, people with preexisting conditions are much more likely to develop complications from COVID-19 like pneumonia, infection and organ system failure. This could affect various disabilities that people develop from genetic conditions, malnutrition, previous infections and other injuries. Physical disability is quite prevalent in Afghanistan, so complications and deaths are also a greater concern than in some other areas.

From a psychiatric disability standpoint, the response plan is more targeted, directing resources and funding to local hospitals and clinics to seek out trauma patients who have not received adequate treatment prior to 2021. “With the volatile security situation creating higher trauma needs and associated disabilities, secondary trauma care continues to be a critical need,” the report noted. OCHA will continue to monitor the mental health of citizens closely through 2021, trying to care for those it missed in previous psychiatric treatment initiatives.

Help is on the way for people like Haji Rizva and Kamran, to prevent them and their children from developing new health concerns or complications from COVID-19. The OCHA response plan aims to reach 86% or more of the existing disabled population in Afghanistan.

– Anika Ledina
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in Lebanon
According to a U.K. study, 10-15% of Lebanese residents have a disability. In Lebanon, like many places around the world, a direct link between disability and poverty exists. Disabled individuals in Lebanon are less likely to complete elementary school and more likely to face unemployment and poverty than the abled population. As a result, disability is one of the leading causes of institutionalization in Lebanon. Here is some information about disability and poverty in Lebanon.

In the Context of COVID-19

The Lebanese government has recently come under fire for providing disabled individuals with little, conflicting or no information regarding the virus. Aya Majzoub, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that “This exclusion is robbing people with disabilities of potentially life-saving information and services that they need to weather this crisis.” Restricting access to this information limits the ability of those with disabilities to social distance and access resources, as they must rely on word-of-mouth to make important safety decisions. This puts Lebanon’s disabled population at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, simply due to the fact that they do not have the information necessary to protect themselves.

However, even if the Lebanese government decided to give the disabled population accurate information, there is no guarantee that they would have the technology necessary to receive it. Although international law dictates that governments must use technologies such as interactive voice response and TTY/TDD to provide information in accessible formats, not everyone may be able to afford the technology necessary to receive those messages.

UNICEF and other NGOs have produced accessible materials for people with disabilities to gain accurate information regarding COVID-19.

Medical Care

People with disabilities in Lebanon cannot always access medical care. In an American University of Beirut study of disabled Lebanese citizens and refugees living in Lebanon, 78.5% said that financial ability was a barrier to health care.

Arceniel, a Lebanese nonprofit founded in response to the high number of disabilities caused by the Lebanese Civil Wars, provides pay-what-you-can health care. Specializing in disability care, the organization provides mobility equipment, specialized therapies, clinician visits and other resources.

Education

By law, all government buildings, including public schools must be accessible. However, a study found that only five of all Lebanese public schools were accessible. As a result, 85% of individuals with disabilities did not complete the Lebanese equivalent of elementary school.

During this time of working and studying from home, children with cognitive disabilities who rely on in-person learning to grasp material have experienced a significant impact. Fista, a Lebanese organization that works with children and adults with cognitive disabilities, moved its entire program online. Children with cognitive disabilities can now access instructors and therapists to continue their education toward bright futures.

Workplace Inequity

Law 220, a hopeful measure from the year 2000, set a quota for the percentage of disabled employees in a company. However, the lack of physical accessibility to most Lebanese buildings makes meeting that quota improbable, if not impossible. Moreover, the government rarely enforces Law 220’s quota at all, leaving prospective disabled employees with few employment options. As a result, 74% of the disabled population does not have employment.

According to the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union (LPHU)’s estimate, of disabled individuals who are capable of working, only 26% have employment. The union seeks to change that. LPHU offers on-the-job training, job placement, advocacy, business development services and counseling to those with physical disabilities.

Disability access is an issue in all countries around the world. Although the Lebanese government has taken legislative actions to improve the lives of the disabled population, enforcement of these laws for schools, workplaces and government outreach programs is lacking. The Lebanese government can and must do better to create accessible environments for its disabled population and reduce the link between disability and poverty in Lebanon.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr

Cure BionicsCure Bionics, a startup company based in Tunisia, is finalizing its design for a prosthetic hand using 3D-printed components. Priced at $2,000, the model will cost significantly less than the bionic limbs typically imported from Europe. Cure Bionics could transform the lives of many Tunisians in need of prosthetic limbs to improve their quality of life.

Disabilities in Tunisia

Although not much data is available for limb differences in Africa, the 2002-2004 World Health Survey declared that 16.3 of Tunisia’s population possessed some sort of disability.

Although the country has passed groundbreaking legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, prejudice still hinders Tunisians with disabilities from fully participating in social settings. Moreover, people with disabilities often find voting difficult due to a lack of appropriate accommodations and many struggle to find good employment. Past research indicated that nearly 60% of Tunisians with disabilities did not earn any individual income, and the 40% who did work, earned 40% less than people without disabilities.

Social, political and economic exclusion means, broadly speaking, that Tunisians with disabilities are more acutely impacted by multidimensional poverty than Tunisians without disabilities. In turn, this has led to disparities in education, health and employment. The social exclusion of people with disabilities has a considerable cost in terms of quality of life with a life expectancy reduction of approximately 18 years.

Cure Bionics

Cure Bionics hopes to improve the lives of disabled people in Tunisia by making high-tech bionic limbs more accessible and affordable for the people who need them.

When the company’s founder, Mohamed Dhaouafi, was studying engineering at university, he began to research prosthetics after learning that one of his peers had a relative who was born without upper limbs and could not afford prosthetics. Dhaouafi quickly discovered that this is not uncommon: Of the approximately 30 million people in developing countries who have amputated limbs, only 1.5 million can obtain prosthetics.

After graduating from university, Dhaouafi continued to work on the prosthetic device he had begun designing in school. Today, Cure Bionics’ 3D-printed bionic hands have rotating wrists, a mechanical thumb and fingers that bend at the joints in response to the electronic impulses. The bionic hand can be adjusted to accommodate a child’s physical growth. It can also be solar-powered for use in regions without a reliable electricity supply. Since young people with limb differences require multiple prostheses as they age, Cure Bionics’ cost-effective approach could help to ensure that more children benefit from prosthetic limbs earlier in life.

Moreover, Dhaouafi hopes to offer a virtual-reality headset for physical therapy sessions. Geared especially toward children, the headset will allow recipients of bionic limbs to become familiar with their prosthetics and to practice moving and flexing their fingers in the fun and exciting context of a video game.

Looking to the Future

While Cure Bionics continues to finalize and test its bionic hand before making it available for purchase in Tunisia, Dhaouafi has already set himself another goal. He wants to offer high-tech, low-cost prosthetic limbs to people with limb differences throughout Africa, the Middle East and beyond.

Selected by the Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa program in 2019, Dhaouafi is helping to increase access to bionic prosthetics for people who could not otherwise have afforded the expense. In this way, he is also helping Tunisians with limb disabilities to overcome the formidable challenges of exclusion and escape multidimensional poverty,  improving their quality of life overall.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr