Since 2017, Professor of Public Health Mary Hearst, MPH, PhD, and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy Paula Rabaey, PhD, OTR/L, have worked on a GHR Foundation-funded project called Kusamala+. This project was designed to reduce stigma and improve the quality of life for children with disabilities in Kanyama and Misisi — resource-poor communities in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Since then, Hearst, Rabaey, and additional St. Catherine University faculty have co-developed educational and supportive programming for these children and their families with their partner Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and expanded their outreach to one additional community in Lusaka (Chawama). They have also developed materials, processes, and a community training program for sustainability and community ownership of the project when the St. Kate’s funding ends later this year.
Recently, Hearst collaborated with CMMB and the SPOON Foundation to do a rapid health impact assessment (HIA) of COVID-19 on children with disabilities enrolled in the Kusamala+ project. Their purpose was aimed to understand the effects of COVID-19 and the containment measures implemented in Zambia on children with disabilities and their families living in resource-poor communities in Lusaka. Based on their HIA report, they discovered some key takeaways:
- Most families reported a major loss of income resulting in food insecurity (79%), housing instability (67%), stress (36%), and increased risk of child separation and neglect (18%).
- Many families reported loss of access to health services for their child such as physiotherapy (33%). Most children did not attend school prior to the pandemic.
- Most families reported receiving little to no financial assistance.
- COVID-19 and related containment measures have impacted the lives of children with disabilities and their families to a great extent. There is an urgent need for disability-inclusive responses that deliberately address the needs of children with disabilities and their families, notably uninterrupted access to adequate food, inclusive education, rehabilitation therapy, and income-generating activities.
For their next steps, Hearst and the two organizational partners plan to use their findings to “inform the design of a larger, more in-depth assessment in Zambia to 1) evaluate the disparate impact of COVID-19 and its response measures on children with disabilities compared to children without disabilities; and 2) provide an evidence base that stakeholders can use in their COVID-19 response and recovery plan,” as stated in their HIA report.
To learn more about the rapid health impact assessment, view the HIA report and the poster that was presented at the Coregroup: Global Health Practitioner Conference —Unlocking Potential: Prioritizing Child and Adolescent Health and Well-Being in the New Decade which took place January 27-28, 2021.