Disability is a major issue in Sierra Leone, where thousands of people had limbs cut off during the 1991 -2002 fighting which completely devastated the country, its infrastructure, its economy and people. Leonard Cheshire Disability’s report, just out, is one of the first comprehensive studies into disability in Sierra Leone. It is hoped the findings will help the needs of people with disabilities be included in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and social services. “The disabled community’s voice is generally a voice that is not heard in discussions of development,” said Bentry Kalanga, the organisation’s senior programme manager for Africa. “Up to now disability has not been regarded as a major development issue; it must be highlighted more,” he told United Nations news service, IRIN.
The report comes, as the country, one of the poorest in the world, recently sealed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and has just drafted a national disability act. In Sierra Leone, 68 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and only 65,000 out of 5. 5 million people are wage earners. Under normal circumstances, about 10 per cent of every population is made up of disabled people, according to figures from Disability World. But in Sierra Leone, the percentage is much, much higher, because of the brutal civil war and carnage that has left behind thousands of maimed children, women and men. The survey found that people with disabilities have less access to education, health care and employment than non-disabled, in a country where such access is already quite low. More than twice as many people with disabilities than non-disabled have no access to health care – 16 per cent compared with 7 per cent, the study shows. Only 1.5 per cent of people with severe or very severe disabilities receive social welfare and benefits, it found, compared with 12.4 per cent of people with no disabilities and 14 per cent with mild or moderate disabilities. The disabled are also more exposed to rape and physical abuse, the report said.
Leonard Cheshire Homes has set up four homes across the country to educate and train children with disabilities with livelihood skills that will make them useful in society. He disclosed that the Home has trained several disabled persons that are now living better lives in People disabled with Polio, living in the capital, Freetown, said they simply want the same basic services and rights as any citizen. “We are all human beings,” said Edward Mustapha, secretary general of House of Jesus, an association for disabled people in downtown Freetown. “Moreover we are citizens of this land. We have a part to play in nation-building, despite our deformity.”