Respect our maternal health rights, women with disabilities urge

Monday, May 20, 2019

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“Women with disabilities can have children, take care of them, and raise very healthy families.”

This was the confident assertion made by Gloria Goffe, executive director of the Combined Disabilities Association, at the Maternal, Neonatal and Infant Health in Jamaica (MNIH) Mini Health Expo held at the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew, recently.

The expo, organised by the Partnership for the Promotion of Patients' Rights in Maternal, Neonatal and Infant Health in Jamaica, under the theme 'Maternal Health Matters', gave various civil society organisations the opportunity to highlight some of the maternal health issues faced by their communities.

Speaking on behalf of women living with disabilities, a release from the organisers of the event said, Goffe noted that there are many widely held misconceptions about the disabled community, which often lead to breaches of their health rights.

Identifying the beliefs that women living with disabilities should be “asexual” and should not have children, Goffe appealed to the wider public to respect these women's right to choose a partner, and to raise a family.

Goffe also noted that, “maternal, neonatal and infant health is inextricably linked with disabilities, because unhealthy mothers can lead to children with disabilities”, the release said.

Speaking specifically to the health sector, she said: “It is important for the health sector to understand the challenges we face, our capabilities, and what they need to put in place to ensure that women with disabilities have healthy pregnancies, and can take care of their young ones.

“The health sector needs to understand our needs from both a physical and infrastructural level, and also understand how to communicate with us. One simple example is for sign language to be an integral part of health care,” she continued.

Using the example of deaf women, Goffe noted that because there is no system in place for communication with them in many health facilities, they have to be accompanied by individuals who act as interpreters.

“We need a system that caters to their needs where their issues can be private,” Goffe stressed, recommending that basic sign language be taught to health care providers.

She added: “When the Ministry of Health is doing public education and go into communities, they must also understand that they have to provide the messages in formats that are user-friendly for persons with disabilities.”

Expressing an understanding for the challenges involved in implementing these changes, and acknowledging that improvements have been made over the years, the release said Goffe also addressed the issue of accessibility of health facilities to the disabled.

“Where, because of our limited economics, we cannot make everywhere accessible at the same time, because change is a long-term process, then we need the health care provider to understand that they need to make provisions to accommodate us,” she stated. “So, for example, where there is no lift, then the lab technician or whoever it is has to come downstairs to meet a person in a wheelchair.”

A 2011 population census conducted by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica identified more than 500,000 people with various disabilities in the island, the release said.

The Mini Health Expo was put on in recognition of April 11 as International Day for Maternal Health & Rights. The organisers said it saw more than 300 individuals accessing free blood pressure, blood glucose, sight screening, HIV, and syphilis testing; as well as learning about maternal health and rights.

The expo was also reportedly used to showcase the work MNIH has done as part of the Partnership for the Reduction of Maternal & Child Mortality in Jamaica.

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