Disabled people in Latin America, the great forgotten after the pandemic

Disabled people in Latin America, the great forgotten after the pandemic

A report from the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) points out that the health crisis caused by the coronavirus “has affected the population in a profound and multidimensional way” and Latin America and the Caribbean, “characterized by high levels of inequality, labor informality and vulnerability, is one of the most affected regions in health, economic and social terms”.

Poverty and inequality in the region

The ECLAC investigation reflects poverty data that “had not been observed for at least a decade.” In 2021, the number of people in a situation of poverty stood at 201 million (32.1% of the population of Latin America) and it is estimated that the data will continue to increase for the period of 2022, of which there is still no data. They have extracted official data from the regional body.

In the same way, social inequality increased by almost one percentage point and economic activity recorded “a historic contraction” with a 6.8% drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 7.7% of GDP per capita, which supposes “the biggest annual fall in the 120 years of statistical history of the region”.

Other World Bank work It also shows that the Latin American region has been one of the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The short-term impact is mainly monetary, but the non-monetary effects, such as food insecurity and low participation in education, will probably continue even in the post-pandemic period,” Javier Romero Haaker and Gabriel Lara Ibarra explain in a written communication to the who has had access to voice of america.

social protections

Social protection has become the main tool that governments in the region have had to provide assistance to children and their families with the aim of mitigating the negative effects of the health crisis.

But there is a group that has suffered especially from the consequences of the pandemic, people who suffer from some type of physical or mental disability, a group that was already vulnerable even before the pandemic.

“Today approximately 15% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean has a disability, representing more than 80 million people,” explains Mónica Rubio, regional social policy adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Fund. for Children (UNICEF).

According to the UNICEF spokesperson, this trend will continue to increase in the following decades and it is estimated that there will be some 150 million people with disabilities in the region by 2050.

“This puts ahead the challenge of designing and implementing policies and programs that materialize what the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities establishes,” he states, referring to the “right to social protection of persons with disabilities.”

Along these lines, it celebrates that “most high-income countries already have significant social protection coverage for people with disabilities” and that “there are many low- and middle-income countries that are developing social protection policies and programs for disability”, including in the Latin American region.

People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty

However, Rubio assures that “people with disabilities are much more likely to live in poverty and have less participation in social, economic and public life” which shows that “inclusive social protection is essential”.

“(Inclusive social protection) we understand it as social protection that effectively contributes to the realization of rights such as social security and a decent standard of living, with access to education, health, job opportunities and, above all, access, support or assistance for autonomous development to the extent of their capacities”, says Rubio.

Inequalities from an early age

On the other hand, the researcher Alfonso Tolmos, from the Trans100d consultancy, points out that this inequality begins in the early stages of childhood since “very important differences are observed between people with disabilities and people without disabilities” in matters such as literacy or years of schooling.

Tolmos, whose study was presented this week during a talk organized by the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington DC-based think tank, stresses that “the design and implementation of a series of social protection programs” in the region have begun to cause a positive effect. “This institutional framework and this first establishment of policies invite us to collect a series of policy trends in the region, which we see as hopeful, although we know that, in reality, there is still an important road to travel”, he points out.

positive effects

One of those plans that are contemplated in many of the countries of the region has to do with the “expansion of social protection, which also ends up benefiting people with disabilities.” In recent years, according to data provided by Tolmos, there has been a general increase in public spending from 10% to 14%, which has also made it possible to serve this population group.

“There is a tendency to offer services with universal coverage and that has allowed us to take a first step to also serve vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities,” he adds.

All in all, the experts agree in stating that “the social protection system can help” in the coordination and implementation of common policies to meet the needs of people with some type of disability, who continue to be the most vulnerable after the pandemic. . “This can help disability case management or families of children and adolescents with disabilities to have greater access to opportunities,” says Alexandre Cote, UNICEF social policy specialist.

“But for that we need a social protection system and for this mutation to continue in order to understand the role towards the inclusion of people and children with disabilities,” he concludes.

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