Persons with Disabilities in the Rwenzori region of Western Uganda are demanding members of parliament to enact laws that ease access to reproductive health services.
People with Disabilities (PWDs) from the districts of Kabarole, Ntoroko, Bundibugyo and Kasese specifically want a house-to-house delivery of family-planning services to households accommodating PWDs.
The chairperson of the Bundibugyo District Association of Women with Disability (BAWD), madam Sarah Kabagenyi, said although persons with disabilities have the same sexual and reproductive health needs as other members of the public, they often face barriers to information and service. She said they are often unable to access the same range of health services as provided to other persons.
“Those with hearing impairments are unaware of health services that include family planning, mostly because they are not empowered to demand them, and some are illiterate,” Kabagenyi said. The chairperson is also asking policymakers to develop laws to guide the construction of public structures, noting that most of these are inaccessible for persons with physical disabilities.
Kansiime Phionah, a PWD from Kabarole District, attributes the inability to access reproductive health services to discrimination, ignorance and negative social attitudes of both society and healthcare providers, and cultural assumptions that treats PWDs as less human. “Many women have had unplanned pregnancies because they are unable to protect themselves from men who take advantage of their disabilities,” she said.
John Katwesigye, a PWD, said that men with disabilities have been left out of all discussions and awareness campaigns on reproductive health, and reasons that keeping men out of accessing information affects the quality of their family life.
Joseline Karungi, the advocacy officer at Platform for the Needy (PLANE), said pregnancies among girls with disabilities have increased because of lack of sexual reproductive services. What is more, she said children with disabilities have suffered more during the COVID-19 lockdown because of the limited access to services.
Jamie Kakungulu, the Kabarole District probation officer, says PWDs face numerous problems accessing general health care. In a bid to solve the gap, she said they have worked with community leaders and Village Health Teams (VHTs) to identify vulnerable groups that find it hard to access reproductive services, and then have taken these services nearer to them on special days.
Joy Nakesa from the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU) wants the government and health-care providers to extend reproductive services at the village level. She said that PWDs access is also hampered by inaccessible health facilities, and limited information tailored to their health needs. She said she wants health facilities to have special teams to handle PWDs, noting that there is a negative attitude among health-care providers that is discouraging many PWDs from seeking services.