The COVID-19 pandemic has so far infected more than three million people with more than 250,000 deaths across the world. With the pandemic sweeping across the globe, we can only pray and hope it doesn’t wreck more havoc in our lives.

But in as much as I or the world for that matter, want the pandemic gone for things to return to normalcy, I have over the past few days, been quite pessimistic about this whole pandemic issue.

When the number of infected persons was less than 200,000 across the globe, I expected the numbers not to go beyond 500,000. Likewise, when Ghana’s case count was less than 100, I never imagined we would go beyond a 1,000 case count, but here we are today. Nevertheless, I am cautiously optimistic that we will soon overcome the pandemic.

One of the things that surprises me the most is how the world was suddenly overwhelmed by the virus as though we were unaware of its emergence in China and its potential spread to the rest of the world. Well, I am convinced that, world leaders were not proactive enough at the beginning in their response to the pandemic and so we were caught unprepared.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) tells us that, at the end of January, there were only eighty-two confirmed cases outside China and only three months later, confirmed cases are in the millions.

If the current strict measures had been enforced at the initial stages, we may not have been where we are today. In Ghana for instance, some of us expected our borders to have been closed somewhere in February when the virus was taking hold in Europe and some other countries. But we waited till the end of March.

We are just lucky that, the virus is not claiming many lives as in other places simply because most infected persons here do not become seriously ill and therefore do not require critical care. Otherwise, it would have been a different story. This notwithstanding, the response of the government so far though not exhaustive, is quite commendable.

With the race to find a cure and a vaccine still on, the only way to ensure prevention is to adhere to the strict protocols prescribed by health experts. ie frequent washing of hands, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, avoidance of handshakes and face touching, social distancing among others.

But there is a silent problem, one loud call that has been made is the need to protect our elderly men and women as well as persons with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart-related diseases etc for obvious reasons. But in all these preventive measures, persons who have been inadvertently forgotten are the blind and the deaf. Well, perhaps this is because we are in the minority.

Unlike the elderly ones, for us, the problem is not about having a weak immune system and for that matter at a higher risk of death. It is rather about the ability to stay safe by adhering fully to all the preventive protocols. As a visually impaired person, it is nearly impossible to move without touching because in many cases, my hands serve as my eyes.

Again, in our part of the world, I cannot go out without assistance. This is a serious concern not just for me but for other blind persons. So a major way out for us is to completely stay at home.

That is why it is important for the government to make it mandatory for all blind workers to stay away from work until it is safe to go back. Even though the majority of visually impaired workers in the country are teachers and since schools have been closed down and are at home, there are others who are in public institutions.

But I have to mention that, some of the institutions have done well by ensuring the safety of such persons. However, I think they are not enough and therefore government’s intervention will be in order.

As a result of the difficulty in strictly observing some of the protocols like social distancing and avoidance of touching one’s face, the use of hand sanitizers and face masks are therefore more crucial for the blind than any other. 

Indeed, a few of us are able to afford them. But how about my friends at Amasu, Nsesreso and Aboabo all in Dormaa Ahenkro and other places who either have a very limited source of income or have no source of income at all. Also, how about those on the streets of Accra and Kumasi whose only means of survival is begging.

How do they afford these protective equipment? This means that, for them, eating properly in order to have a stronger immune system doesn’t come in at all.  Sadly, in the donation of such protective equipment by government and other private entities and individuals, such persons have unconsciously been paid less attention to even though they should be prioritized.

As the Bono Regional Secretary of the Ghana Blind Union, I have been discussing with my colleagues on how best we can help our members particularly those in the rural communities, but we are helpless.

I therefore encourage MMDAs, the central government and other private individuals and organizations to kindly remember the disadvantaged but equally important members of the society. This is critical because, if one blind person gets infected, he has the potential to infect more people than a non-blind person since he can neither avoid touching nor keep physical distance. But I have to commend the Health Minister for his commitment towards addressing this issue.

I fervently hope the government would consider some of these issues before lifting the current restrictions particularly the reopening of schools. This is because blind students in the various universities and other institutions of learning rely largely on their sighted colleagues not just for mobility, but for many other things.

And as to whether the attitudes of our sighted friends will remain the same particularly if the virus has not been totally eliminated is uncertain. But I know for sure that they will remain as wonderful and kind as they have always been.

Another group that has largely been left out is the deaf. Even though we the blind have numerous challenges, in my opinion, the deaf are the most excluded in our society. But we are focusing on COVID-19 today, later we will talk about other issues. For the deaf, avoiding touch or keeping physical distance may not be a problem.

Nonetheless, they also need protective equipment just like anyone. But the most troubling challenge which could be very dangerous is communication and or access to information.

By communication, I am referring to how a deaf person can communicate with health officials should he or she show symptoms of the virus. Access to equitable healthcare for the deaf has long been a problem. Perhaps there could not have been a better time to talk about it.

Apart from a few hearing impaired persons who are fortunate to have been educated and thus can communicate with health officials through writing, the majority are not able to do so and as a result some even refuse to go to the hospital when they fall sick.

Relative to COVID-19, I have no doubt in my mind that there are some hearing impaired persons in the country who have never heard of it. The question is, how do they get information regarding the virus? Recently, the Ministry of Information engaged the services of a sign language interpreter to interpret the media briefings.

Well, that is a commendable initiative. But it is absolutely inadequate. This is because, majority of our deaf population are illiterate and either live in rural communities or live under conditions that do not afford them access to television and other channels of receiving information.

This means that the sign language translation services provided by the Ministry of Information benefit a few. So my friends at Kofiasua and Taforo do not benefit. It is clear from the above that, should a deaf person contract the virus, the entire community in which he lives will be at risk.

How do we address this problem? This is where the government can exploit the services of churches like the Church of Christ and Jehovah Witness. Both churches have trained some of their members in sign language translation for the purpose of ministering to the deaf community.

These churches need to be highly commended for such a thought-driven effort and I think the government can take advantage of their services to reach out to the thousands of the nearly forgotten hearing impaired persons in the country.

It is rather a shame for the so-called “big churches” including my own Catholic Church to have woefully failed to recognize that the deaf also need salvation. Also because, this could have been a great time to show kindness and empathy to such persons. But that is a topic for another day.

I sincerely call on the health authorities and for that matter government to pay particular attention to these minority groups who in many cases are voiceless. I understand the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisation have had some meetings with the government. That is welcoming, but is that sufficient?

To our hardworking MMDCEs, I pray this is not the time to sing the usual song, “the persons with disability share of the district Assembly Common Fund has not been released.” We are aware of the brilliant efforts you are making to curtail the spread of the virus with or without the Common Fund.

All we are asking is to make us a priority. I want to praise the outstanding effort of the DCE for Dormaa East, Hon. Kofi Agyemang. This man always does things out of the ordinary when it comes to issues regarding persons with disabilities.

I do not know where he gets his ideas or inspiration from. God bless you Honorable. Also, to all the Non-Governmental Organisations and other private individuals whose contributions in these difficult times have been magnificent; please, we may not be able to broadcast to the whole world when you donate to us, but the blessings you will get will surpass any publicity. Finally, to my persons with disabilities friends who are working, this is the time for us to also show love to our needy colleagues. We must not always be at the receiving end.

Lets everyone stay safe and adhere to all the safety protocols, and above all trust in the Almighty God, for this pandemic will hopefully be over soon.

Isaac Yeboah Afari (A concerned citizen).