Disability in the pandemic
This session is dedicated to examining the many different ways in which disabled people have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of risk of infection and severe illness and death, as well as by the range of infection control measures, such as lockdown and social distancing.
As with many other existing inequalities, the pattern emerging is that the inequalities in health and quality of life faced by people with disabilities have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
What were the particular risks faced by disabled people? How can we ensure that our health and social care systems are well prepared to protect the interests of disabled people? What might be the appropriate legal and political avenues for addressing the issues faced by disabled people, in the short and the long term?
Professor Tom Shakespeare, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Tom Shakespeare is a Professor of Disability Research, who was trained in social and political sciences at Cambridge University, before subsequently completing an MPhil and PhD. He has taught and researched at the Universities of Sunderland, Leeds, Newcastle and East Anglia. From 2008-2013, he was a technical officer at the World Health Organisation, Geneva, where he co-authored and co-edited the World Report on Disability (2011) and International Perspectives on Spinal Cord Injury (2014).
His qualitative social research has been with disabled people, in UK and Africa, exploring social and economic consequences of impairment and illness. Specific projects have focused on disabled people's sexual and reproductive rights; disabled childhoods; resilience and success for disabled people in Africa; independent living and social care; rights-based rehabilitation; mental health recovery. He also works in bioethics as it pertains to disabled people, specifically prenatal testing and end of life and assisted dying. He is the co-director of the International Centre for Evidence in Disability at LSHTM, with Professor Hannah Kuper.
His books include: the Sexual Politics of Disability (1996); Disability Rights and Wrongs (2006; 2014); Disability - the Basics (2017). He was a member of Arts Council, England (2003-2008) and Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2013-2019), and he is currently chair of Light for the World - UK, and vice-chair of Light for the World International.
Calum Davey is an Assistant Professor in the faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases. Before that he worked in the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, and the Faculty of Public Health and Policy. His work primarily focuses on evaluations of complex interventions with various levels of behavioural component, with a longstanding focus on improving access to HIV-services of female sex workers. He is particularly interested in learning how process and impact evaluations can be used together to make useful recommendations for policy in new environments. He is currently part of the Programme for Evidence to Inform Disability Action led by the International Centre for Evidence on Disability at LSHTM.
This series of seminars will examine the ethical, legal and policy challenges and implications of addressing the current COVID-19 crisis in a world of high socioeconomic inequality. The series has been organised by The Transnational Law Institute at Dickson Poon School of Law (King’s College London), King’s Global Health Institute, and the department of Global Health and Social Medicine.
Public health recommendations on how to respond to pandemics are, on the surface, simple and clear: find, test, isolate, impose quarantines and lockdown. The WHO - International Health Regulations of 2005, a binding international treaty with the participation of 196 countries, sets out this general framework of measures that countries are under an obligation to implement. As WHO Director General Dr Tedros recently put it: “One of the most fundamental ingredients for stopping this virus is determination and willingness to make hard choices to keep ourselves and each other safe”. (WHO Press Conference, 27.7.2020)
Little consideration is given, however, to socioeconomic factors that significantly affect the capacity of countries to implement these measures, even when the political will is present to do so. Such factors go a long way in explaining the significantly differential impact of the pandemics across and within countries, such as widely reported higher infection and death rates, as well as economic hardship, among certain groups of the population.
As we are clearly not “all in this together” in many respects - even if it is true that the virus itself “respects no borders, gender, race etc.” - it is important to critically analyse the current framework of responding to pandemics with a view to improving it for a future where such events seem significantly more likely.
This debate requires the participation not only of public health experts, but also ethicists, lawyers, economists and representatives of many other disciplines of the social sciences.