- 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. 

Lebanon’s first confirmed cases of the virus were detected in February and since there have been more than 43,000 cases and nearly 400 confirmed deaths.

Here George, 60, a freelance researcher, writer and translator who is blind and Mia, 39-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, share their experiences of the pandemic.

“I would like the world to know that it has to pay more attention to persons with disabilities in emergencies," George says. “Perhaps the world has not totally forgotten persons with disabilities through Covid-19, but it definitely has not paid adequate attention to them”, he adds. 

“Support services need to be reorganized and provided more systematically. In developing countries, there is greater need for community and government care and services. Blind people, for example, hesitate to go out on their own or with their guide dogs or personal companions for fear of not being able to keep social distance. In many cases, I and my fully sighted wife were overrun by persons who are not blind when moving around in different rows to pick up our purchases or standing to pay at the cashier in supermarkets. In many countries, those persons with disabilities seem invisible in normal times, so how would they be in times of hardship and fear?

I have not known of any attempt made in the Arab world, for example, to provide them with prevention and special care instructions. How would they be able to preserve themselves and care properly for their own health and everyday lives? Social distancing with them is not easily possible.

In Lebanon, thank God, we have so far not known of any case of persons with disabilities getting infected with COVID-19. However, I have been all the time occupied with wondering about the possible ways of help that might be offered by nursing and medical staff to infected persons with disabilities whether at home or in hospital. Treatments and meals are given in very special ways. The patient is informed by a knock at the door that their needs are ready. How would a person with physical disability be able to get out of bed and move to the door and fetch the tray? How would a totally blind person find out where the tray has been left for her/him? How would a person with intellectual disability remember what tablets or other kinds of medicine she/he has to take before or after the meal? How would a deaf person recognize that the door of her/his room has been knocked to inform them of the meal being left at the door?

Such arrangements may be quite novel for the medical teams round the world. We all appreciate the courage, endurance, patience and innovation of the nursing and medical staff, but persons with disabilities mostly need direct contact. Most other diseases do not require isolating patients completely. We have to think also that the great majority of persons with disabilities would not be able to move out of bed by themselves."

Employment and recovering from the pandemic

The pandemic in Lebanon has coincided with economic and political crisis, creating compounded hardship for persons with disabilities and their families. George shares his experience with us:

“I am a freelance researcher, writer and translator and have had less work opportunities. Jobs are becoming fewer. Payment is not immediate because of bank closures. One has to be much more careful with payments, stopping any new purchases and trying to limit house budgets monthly and weekly. I can no longer visit publishing houses. It is almost impossible to propose starting new projects with the economic downturn getting more acute. It made me feel anxious and worried.

Persons with disabilities in Lebanon do not receive any subsistence or other allowances. However, the Lebanese government decided at the beginning of the lockdown on March 15, to provide a token assistance of 400,000 Lebanese pound (almost $160 at the time of the decision making). Jobless or unemployed holders of disability cards were considered a group of priority. However, the day cashed to the beneficiaries, the money had already lost almost 37.5% of its value.

More than one month after the clearance of the lockdown measures, my work has started to resume a somewhat regular pattern. However, the severe economic downturn affects demand on translation and paid research work outside university experiments and studies. I feel worried about the future of my work."

Explosion in Beirut

“As for August 4 horrible blast, it caused terrible damage to five hospitals. That wrecked havoc on the health sector. In the two weeks following the blast, most Lebanese forgot all about the coronavirus and the precautions. During July and with the end of the stricter stage of the general mobilization, Corona cases started to rise to something between 250 and 300 a day, and later to around 500 a day. After the explosion, cases rose around 200 more per day. On August 21 Lebanon went into a strict lockdown for two weeks, but after that the cases continued to rise. Now, we are having around 1250 cases a day.

Personally, I feel scared. My work has started to pick up very briskly. Yet, I feel I cannot go out of house. Instead of going once every week to the supermarket, we go once every fortnight or more. We still have the chance to walk for nearly an hour in a yard next to our house. Our walk has to take place at sunset, when people stop coming to the place to walk or park or drive away their cars. We almost stopped receiving visitors.

So far, I have not heard of any new cases among persons with disabilities. My information is gathered from OPDs and from acquaintances and friends with disabilities. Perhaps, all are as worried and frightened as I am. We all perceive that if one has a severe case of corona, it is almost impossible to get into hospital and to get helped by respirators. COVID-19 drugs are quite expensive with the Lebanese currency losing continually more value against the dollar.”

Fears and questions of Mia, woman with Down Syndrome

“My name is Mia and I am from Lebanon. Here is the story of my lockdown. The situation due to COVID-19 is very stressful. The number of people infected with the virus is increasing every day and so is the number of deaths. This scares me very much, especially since we don't know when this will end. The hospitals are full, and I am very worried, I wonder what could happen if I get sick and have to go to the hospital.

I have thyroid problems and I need to do regular tests. Since the lockdown, I can no longer do them and can’t see my doctor. I keep taking my medication, without knowing if I should increase or decrease the dose, and this scares me. I have fragile lungs and I am scared to leave the house for a short walk and I am bored. I had an inflammation in my leg, but since I cannot go out of the house for blood tests or X-rays, the doctor gave me painkillers but said not to take anti-inflammatory pills because they might be dangerous with the virus. Now I am afraid to take any pills. The worst is when I am stressed and I start to play with my face and I hurt myself. This drives my mother crazy, but I cannot help it and I too am worried.

Fortunately, I like to draw and paint and I have two brothers who I can share my fears with. But I cannot call them in the middle of the night when I am really scared. I feel very lonely and I am scared, it is very difficult to be confined not being able to see my friends. I miss my family and friends, I can't hug them, hang out with them. I talk to them on the phone or through Zoom but it starts to tire me and anyway it does not replace a hug. I'm not happy, especially since everyone says this will stay a very long time.

My parents told me about this reopening and I am a little confused. On one hand, I am happy that we are talking about reopening, this is a sign of hope and control of the pandemic. On the other hand, I wonder what the state has provided for the care of people with a disability, no one is talking about this. This increases my confusion and fear.

My family is my best support, they are by my side whenever I need them. They explain to me that we all have to be very careful, my dad has diabetes and he has to go to the hospital for dialysis, three times a week. My mom and my brother insist a lot that I wash my hands well, that I respect the distance between two persons and that I wear the mask. We all don't want to take a risk that might hurt me or a family member. I am most worried that someone in my family or a friend of mine gets the virus and that I cannot see them. I'm also very scared to catch it.

The explosion of August 4 is the most terrifying thing that has happened in Lebanon. This explosion has changed priorities. Before August 4, the pandemic, along with the financial crisis, was the priority. Today the Lebanese want to rebuild their house, find money to buy drugs, food, send their kids to school that is destroyed... Life after August 4 is different than life before, it is very sad. The solidarity movement around the world for Beirut gives us hope and courage to rebuild our city and therefore our lives.

Before the coronavirus, I used to do a lot of things, but now I cannot. I hope someone will find a vaccine quickly. I need to breathe and sleep well, I need to go back to work and to see my friends, I need to enjoy life.”