Statement Of The Working Group On The Rights Of Older Persons And People With Disabilities In Africa Of The African Commission On Human And Peoples’ Rights, At The Occasion O


On the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), this 3rd December 2020, the Working Group on the Rights of Older Persons and People with Disabilities in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights joins, as a tradition, celebrations happening all over the world focussing at promoting the understanding of disability issues and mobilising support for ensuring the dignity, rights and well-being of Persons with Disabilities.

The United Nations’ theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”

It is worth noting that having adopted the Protocol to the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with disabilities (Africa Disability Protocol or ADP), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) through its Working Group on the Rights of Older Persons and People with Disabilities in Africa championed the adoption of the Protocol in all Member States of the African Union.

The Africa Disability Protocol was subsequently adopted by the Summit of AU Heads of States and Governments on 29th January 2018. An accompanying draft Model Disability Law (MDL) was developed and adopted by the Pan African Parliament (PAP) on 19th October 2019. The MDL will facilitate the domestication of the Africa Disability Protocol in AU Member States once adopted by the AU Summit of Heads of States and Governments.

The Working Group therefore reiterates its call on Member States of the African Union to ratify the Protocol as a matter of utmost priority and to commit themselves to promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities living in their respective countries. This should go hand-in-hand with the necessity that work towards developing programming and implementation strategies must be commenced without delay.

The theme of the IDPD recognises the fact that the COVID 19 pandemic has affected all population groups at all levels of society without discrimination. In March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a pandemic, due to the speed and scale of transmission.


People with disability may be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to:

  1. Barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, such as hand-washing (e.g. handbasins or sinks may be physically inaccessible, or a person may have physical difficulty rubbing their hands together thoroughly);
  2. Difficulty in enacting social distancing because of additional support needs or because they are institutionalized;
  3. The need to touch things, obtain information, or for physical support;
  4. Barriers to accessing public health information.

Depending on underlying health conditions, people with disability are at greater risk of developing more severe cases of COVID-19 if they become infected. This may be due to:

  1. COVID-19 exacerbating existing health conditions, particularly those related to respiratory function, immune system function, heart disease or diabetes;
  2. Barriers to accessing health care.
  3. People with disability may also be disproportionately impacted by the outbreak because of serious disruptions to the services they rely on.

A UN Policy Brief: A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19 published in May 2020, notes that the global crisis of COVID-19 is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing the extent of exclusion and highlighting that work on disability inclusion is imperative. People with disabilities — one billion people — are one of the most excluded groups in our society and are among the hardest hit in this crisis in terms of fatalities.

The Policy Brief highlights the need to ensure mainstreaming of disability in all COVID-19 response and recovery together with targeted actions; accessibility of information, facilities, services and programmes in the COVID-19 response and recovery; ensuring meaningful consultation with and active participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in all stages of the COVID-19 response and recovery and establishing accountability mechanisms to ensure disability inclusion in the COVID-19 response.

The Working Group reaffirms the fact that healthcare can be neither universal nor equitable if it is less accessible to some sections of society than it is to others. The “Health for All” concept asserts that attaining health for all as part of overall development starts with primary health care based on “acceptable methods and technology made universally accessible to individuals and families in the community through their full participation and at a cost that the community and the country can afford” (Alma-Ata Declaration, 1978). Since that Declaration, all countries have been urged to consider the Health for All concept when formulating policies and action plans. It was believed that, by interpreting Health for All in a national social, political and developmental context, each country would be able to contribute to the global aim of ‘health for all’.

Health policies built on the value and importance of equity ensure that health services aimed at responding to the COVID 19 virus are justly distributed within the population. This means that priority is given to the poor, vulnerable and socially marginalized population groups such as persons with disabilities and the elderly in/out of residential care facilities.

The Working Group calls upon all African countries to ensure that mainstreaming strategies are put in place in all sectors of government in to fully accommodate persons with disabilities in COVID 19 response strategies and stimulus packages.

Furthermore, the Working Group calls on all African countries to prioritise disability interventions, strategies and programmes, at all times avoiding the cutting of budgets for programmes and services of benefit to persons with disabilities.

All information and COVID 19 response strategies must be made accessible to a diverse range of disabilities, through among other strategies, group chats, social media awareness on such topics as access to inclusive education, social distancing and keeping safe from COVID-19. Educational and awareness strategies must reach all persons with disabilities including children, youth and adults (particularly women) with disabilities.

The Working Group calls on AU Member States to provide opportunities for COVID 19-related disabilityresearchsharing, interacting and communicating results of such research. The Working Group call of all African countries to identify opportunities/ constraints, areas that need urgent intervention, ideas on responses, experiences, proposals and budget allocations for disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses. The Working Group affirms the need to support Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), leaders/ activists/parents/ communities to advocate and hold duty bearers, including COVID 19 command centres and others, accountable and responsive to the needs of persons with disabilities.

The Working Group calls on African countries to cooperate, beyond borders, on strategies related to the prevention, management and other responses to the COVID 19 virus, particularly with regard to access to vaccinations and treatment.

At this juncture, the Working Group wishes to underscore once again that it fully supports initiatives from various stakeholders, the African Union’s Disability Strategies, the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, aiming at ensuring that persons with disabilities are not left behind in the implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development as pledged by the United Nations. All measures should be put in place to ensure that persons with disabilities participate in actions or plans relative to their rights and conditions, ensuring ownership as well as a clear identification of challenges they face and a proper framing of the appropriate solutions.

The Working Group wishes all Persons with Disabilities and their advocates, leaders, representatives and caregivers a happy celebration of the 2020 edition of the IDPD and is optimistic that the COVID 19 virus will be eliminated.


Done in Banjul, the Republic of The Gambia, on 3rd December 2020.