People With Disabilities at Greater Risk As COVID-19 Grips the Pacific and Timor-Leste

Tuesday, 27 Jul 2021

People with disabilities at greater risk as COVID-19 grips the Pacific and Timor-Leste


Recent months have seen unprecedented surges of COVID-19 in Pacific island nations and neighbouring Timor-Leste; a fast-moving and dangerous threat after their huge success in remaining almost COVID-19 free throughout 2020.  This is a real danger to vulnerable populations in a region where there are slow vaccine rollouts, limited testing and poor healthcare systems, and puts people with disabilities at greater risk.


CBM continues to work alongside the disability movement to support the Government to prioritise people with disabilities in all COVID-19 response and recovery. Not only does our research indicate people with disabilities are more likely to die from COVID-19, they also face greater likelihood of loss of income, inaccessible critical health information and reduced access to services and supports.


Just three months ago Papua New Guinea saw COVID-19 surge in the community. Within weeks, cases climbed into the thousands.  People with disabilities reported a lack of accessible health information, extreme economic hardship, and a lack of government support. We spoke to Adrian, a disability advocate with a physical disability living in Port Moresby, who said “a lot of persons with disability are really missing out on a lot of those opportunities to even access what the government is providing.” He was also concerned about access for people with different types of disability: “Accessible for me is not just about physical infrastructure. It is about how do we communicate with the people who are vision impaired, how do we make information available for the hearing impaired?”


In May, after a year of almost no community transmission in Fiji, the extremely infectious Delta strain of COVID-19 arrived in the country. This has seen much of the Fiji population thrown into lockdown and community cases have increased sevenfold. CBM’s Fiji-based partner Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) is a regional umbrella organisation that supports up to 71 organisations of people with disabilities across 22 Pacific Island countries and territories. PDF has been working to roll out inclusive health messaging and advice as well as mobilise response teams to support Organisations of People with Disabilities in seven regions of concern. CBM has provided support to PDF during this time.

Timor-Leste started to see a rise in cases in February across their border with Indonesia. The virus eventually reached the capital Dili seeing the country impose its first lockdown, which continues to this day. Despite lockdowns the number of cases has continued to rise into the thousands. The Government of Timor-Leste has tried to reduce numbers by removing people from their homes and placing them in a quarantine facility when positive. But the facilities are not always accessible or inclusive. CBM has been supporting the Australian Government’s Partnership for Human Development to ensure the approach is more inclusive.


CBM recognises lockdowns and border closures are not long-term solutions and is determined to see all people with disabilities in the Pacific and Timor-Leste prioritised in vaccine rollouts and receiving equal access to public health services and economic recovery.