- December 4, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

Names have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story. 

Israel Balogun is a disability inclusive development specialist in Nigeria. He has physical impairment and uses a walking stick.

Here he shares his concerns about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities in the country.

“The issue of COVID-19 has been a major point of concern for me as an individual. The humanitarian crisis already happening in Nigeria as a result of the Boko Haram crisis has a deleterious effect on the lives of persons with disabilities, who are not being included in the humanitarian response. Now COVID coming on top of it, it's double jeopardy.

Most people with disabilities are the poorest of the poor, the most negated in society, so looking at the whole situation of COVID-19 and its impact on the lives of persons with disabilities got me so concerned. The enormity of the challenge is so wide. There are over 25 million persons with disability in Nigeria.”


“In developing countries at least 20% of the poorest of the poor are persons with disabilities. I'm afraid that we'll be losing most of them. Not because of COVID-19 but because of hunger. The lives of 25 million people with disabilities are at stake in Nigeria. That's just the truth. I'm so concerned. We might be committing a massacre or a genocide.

Someone that could not feed himself before, they have to depend on others or probably depend on begging on the street. Or someone who is unemployed. I know a lot of qualified people with disabilities that don't have a job. So now their situation has worsened. What will they eat? Hunger will kill them even more than the COVID-19.”

Psychosocial impact

“Many of us people with disabilities have low self-esteem. The discrimination and the stigmatization that happens to us also has an underlying effect on us as a people, especially for women with disabilities. We are prone to anxiety, we are prone to depression. Some of them told me that they wished they were dead. There is no support. So many of them are suffering from depression as a result of both the stigma and the economic worries associated with COVID-19. Some of them are self-employed. Some of them are depending on the family support system which is no longer there. Some of them have psychosocial disability like schizophrenia, and COVID-19 is activating it. I have had to counsel and recommend some of them to go and see a doctor in recent times.”

Violence against women and girls

“The other part that I'm even more concerned about is the rape and sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities, who have always been victims of sexual molestation in time passed. Written reports all over the world have shown that sexual and gender-based violence has increased significantly during the pandemic. Even the UN Secretary General António Guterres had to come out and address this issue. 

However, in our own situation here, nobody is really coming out to address this issue. Recently rape incidents have been happening unprecedentedly in our country like never before. Nobody will report rape when it comes to girls and women with disabilities, because whenever they even try to report rape cases, people shut them down.”

Economic impact

“In Nigeria we have over 82 million people in poverty. And the poverty is increasing and a lot of people are losing their jobs. A lot of people with disability I have spoken with, they are even telling me that they can't even beg because people are not outside. I met some beggar from a street in Bauchi. They do what they call transporter beginning, traveling to either Lagos state or mega cities to go and beg, and then send money home to their family.

Now that that opportunity is no longer there, everywhere is locked down so you can imagine the impact on not only people with disabilities, things are becoming much more challenging for them, but for their families and their dependents. “The challenge is this, a lot of people with disabilities say: ‘Look, I have significant difficulties in my life. Why worry about COVID-19? I have other health diseases that are even much more pressing. Malaria is there, typhoid is there, all infectious diseases are there. So let me go and look for a way of begging.’”


“Nobody is talking about conducting tests on persons with disability in Nigeria. However in the developed world, UK and even in US and other places, it has been reported that a lot of people with disabilities who live in homes and psychiatric institutions or are in confinement are getting much exposure to COVID-19. A lot of people have died.

But in my own country, nobody is even thinking about them in terms of conducting testing amongst them. It feels like the testing is selective for me. Even as a doctor, we know that the rich or the privileged that will have access to the NCDC, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, are the ones having the access to testing. And it's getting me worried.”

The future of disability inclusion

“Now that COVID-19 has come, of course it's reversing not only the days of time passed that maybe with the disability movement in Nigeria. But it's even compounding and making the situation worse.

I'll give an instance. A lot of children with disabilities are back at home because the schools have shut. The government is trying to set up opportunity for them to have video messages, lectures or classrooms via radio and television. However, a lot of children with disabilities are marginalized and can’t access that, so they are further disadvantaged. Their situation is worsening.

The impact is also obvious on jobs. Of course, we are advocating for people to be included in the job market. But the future of work now for them is worsening. Employers say ‘I would rather look for an able-bodied person than employing a person with disabilities who will be a further burden to me’.”


“I studied medicine eventually, but three universities told me that I can't study medicine because of my disability. I lost eight years. When I see a person with a disability, it hurts me because I see myself. It might be someone like me again that is going to go through the systematic discrimination that is out there with living with disability in our society.

It's not only in Nigeria alone. This systematic discrimination is even happening in the developed world too. I was in UK when there was a cut to the welfare benefits of a lot of persons with disabilities. I see the disparity. Those in psychiatric institutions, those that are in care homes during COVID-19, a lot of them have died. My heart is broken. And I say to myself: when the situation is like this in developed societies, then what is the fate of us here in Nigeria."