Ensuring persons with disabilities are protected from COVID-19
A new training programme is mobilizing local authorities to make sure all persons with disabilities receive full vaccinations against COVID-19
March, Kandal Province. On March 11th, the commune chiefs for Mukh Kampol District in Kandal Province came together at the Provincial Hall with one mission – to make sure that all of the persons with disabilities under their jurisdiction would have a fair and equal chance to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The chiefs were there to receive the latest lists of persons with disabilities in their communes, as well as training in how to approach individuals, how to collect data on the factors preventing them from accessing vaccinations, and how to encourage them to get fully vaccinated.
Men Sum is the chief of Rokakoang Commune and felt the training was invaluable. An enthusiastic man with a ready smile, he says he will directly pass on the knowledge and techniques gained at the training to all the village chiefs in his commune. “We do need to understand the reasons why persons with disabilities might not be getting vaccinated,” he says. “One of the things we learnt at the training today is to understand those reasons, such as the fact people might be experiencing mental difficulties, or may be unable to travel to vaccination sites because of problems with mobility. Once we know those reasons we can try to find ways to support and encourage them to become fully vaccinated.”
Vin Saroeun works at the Provincial Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, where he is the Vice Director of Social Welfare and Anti-Human Trafficking. He delivered the training on the day, and was happy to see how committed all the Commune Chiefs were to taking action immediately. “It was a good training session,” he explains. “Our primary goal is to make sure all persons with disabilities can access full vaccination coverage, and receive all their doses. A related secondary goal is to get more data on the vaccination situation for persons with disabilities and other vulnerable community members, which will help us achieve greater effectiveness in any future efforts. We have some data now, but it is still preliminary. The training today will help us to make sure it is final and official.”
The training is part of a massive, nationwide effort by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) to promote vaccination amongst the most excluded populations in Cambodia, particularly persons with disabilities and those classified as ID Poor. This effort has been supported by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with UNICEF.
As part of this collaboration, information and support was made available to all persons with disabilities in Cambodia from mid-2021, delivered by a team trained by UNICEF and MoSVY. This has been paired with a training programme which has built the capacity of MoSVY and commune staff to support the vaccination of almost 700,000 households classified as ID Poor.
H.E. Sopannha is Director of the Social Welfare Department at MoSVY and explains why this project has been so important to the Royal Government of Cambodia’s plans. “Everyone in the Cambodian Government is very proud of our success so far in vaccinating people. We are the second in Asia, and have managed to make vaccinations free for all. This is how we will protect our people’s lives, which are so important to the future of our country. The training will help us continue this success. We are trying to empower people at the commune level to contribute but without adding too much to their workload.”
Mr. Sopannha went on to explain that achieving true vaccination equality is an effort that requires everyone to work together, from the national to village level, and including partners such as development agencies. “UNICEF has provided a lot of support with technical matters, such as designing the registration and the monitoring and evaluation systems. They have also supported grassroots training, to reach key personnel in communes and villages.”
Chom Sreing is the Chief of Russey Chroy Commune in Mukh Kampol District. He explains that fully vaccinating persons with disabilities “is a Government objective. It’s our role here today to make sure that we understand how to make this happen, and then make sure all the Village Chiefs in our communes understand.” He says that one of the most important things he learnt at the training was that persons with disabilities “often don’t have easy access to as much information on looking after their health as others, and they may need extra support. The training will help us to provide that extra support.”
Dep Eng is the Deputy Director of Mukh Kampol District, and personally worked hard to bring together all the participants. She says the training is important because “we need to get vaccines to vulnerable and disabled people. It’s crucial to protect their health because they may be more fragile and vulnerable to the disease.
She says the key to success will be learning more about the barriers to vaccination, followed by hard work to overcome them. “The most important thing is to encourage local authorities to promote vaccinations. For disabled and vulnerable people, but also for everyone. We have to push through to the end, because this means we will overcome this terrible disease, and we can again begin to fully progress as a country.”