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Being an older person with a disability: without help from the government and suffering the consequences of COVID-19

By EntreMundos

Today, 3 December marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities according to the United Nations (UN), with the aim of promoting the rights and wellbeing of people with disability socially, and the search for equal opportunities.  On March 13, 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in Guatemala, affecting different strata of society.  However, the scene for many people with disability and the elderly has become even more complicated due to the loss of employment and a greater risk of infection as a consequence of the social and health crisis caused by Covid-19.  Similarly, the situation has been aggravated because of the lack of accessibility for people with disability in health facilities.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), people with disability have higher rates of unemployment and a higher probability of not being economically active than people without disability.  If they are working, they are more likely to have poorly paid, informal, and unstable jobs, with limited career prospects.  Around 15% of the world population suffer some kind of disability and the increase in chronic illnesses, according to the WHO in 2017, disproportionately affects vulnerable populations and are more prevalent in low-income countries.

An example of this difficult situation is Jorge Cayax, 70, who lives alone and doesn’t have a job to cover his expenses, due to his advanced age;  his situation is complicated because he can’t walk.  He explains: “My situation worsened because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  I’ve gotten by thanks to some food donations that some neighbors have provided and some non-government organizations”.  Another case is that of artist Rafael Rizo, 66, who was left without work.  Previously, he was working making decorations for events.  For the past two years he’s been using a catheter; he’s due to have a prostate operation soon.  “Because of the restrictions adopted by the government like the suspension of events and classes, my work was affected since I make decorations for graduations, baptisms and weddings.  With those, employment opportunities and sources of income ran out”, he says.  Along with him, many more elderly and people with disabilities were affected by the national crisis due to the lack of employment opportunities.

During the crisis provoked by the coronavirus, the government of Guatemala promised that it would use Q16 billion to help the most affected population and stated that the most vulnerable would benefit from the implementation of 10 social programs, including the family bonus; which would bring one thousand quetzales for three months to two million families; however, many elderly and people with disability were excluded.  The box “Together We Go Forward” promised benefits of groceries to vulnerable families.  In addition, a bonus to the informal economy was promised, but failed to take into account the people who work in this sector without being registered, or who don’t have a specific location or position (many older adults and people with disability are street vendors).  The food supply program would be destined for vulnerable families including older adults, for example those in nursing homes.  However, half a year has passed and the execution of these programs was deficient.  The aid did not reach the populations in need.

Certainly, it was never clear to which people the aid would arrive.  There were no lists and many elderly and people with disabilities neither qualified nor received aid from the programs.  A single program destined for the elderly and people with disabilities (directed by the Ministry of Labor), was considering Q50 million quetzales.  The aid would consist of a contribution of Q400 monthly for older adults.  To date only 9.43% has been executed.  The affirmation that many elderly and people with disabilities did not benefit from these programs comes from the testimony of people whom EntreMundos supported with groceries, and other testimony from people who received support from other community organizations, neighbors, etc, that to date have not received one cent in government aid.

It’s extremely urgent that the government of Guatemala and its corresponding agencies address the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing among people with disabilities and older adults.  The inclusion of this population is extremely necessary and it’s imperative that real solutions are offered before their care and protection, not only in economic terms, but also in terms of health.  The general budget of 2021 needed to prioritize service to people in this condition, to guarantee the fulfillment of their rights and offer them a dignified life.  We think that the aid that people of good will and non-government organizations have provided has been a palliative to the economic effects that the most vulnerable population suffer;  but we strongly denounce the lack of interest from the government which is charged with ensuring the life and health of the citizens, especially those most unprotected.