The United Nations leader said Wednesday that 1 billion people living with disabilities are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus calling for them to have equal access to prevention and treatment for COVID-19.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the pandemic was revealing the extent to which people were marginalized in society, with the effect of the virus intensifying the inequalities that people with disabilities already face, such as poverty and higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse.
His video message was released alongside a U.N. report that said people with disabilities were estimated to make up 15% of the world’s population and 46% of the those above the age of 60.
He noted that COVID-19 was often more severe in people with existing health problems, increasing their likelihood of dying, while the disabled and elderly who live in care homes and institutions were particularly vulnerable since they may face barriers to health care, good hygiene and social distancing.
In some countries, Guterres said, decisions on rationing health care had been based on discriminatory criteria “such as age or assumptions about quality or value of life, based on disability.”
“We cannot let this continue,” he said. “We must guarantee the equal rights of people with disabilities to access health care and lifesaving procedures during the pandemic.”
The report outlined actions to protect those with disabilities from contracting the virus and dealing with the impact of lockdowns, physical distancing and isolation.
It called for greater support and political commitment to ensure that those with disabilities “have access to essential services, including to immediate health and social protection services, to tide over the crisis.”