In Azerbaijan, pandemic restrictions pose unique obstacles for people with disabilities

“COVID-19 and disability in Indonesia” by ILO in Asia and the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In September 2020, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Labor and Social Protection made drastic cuts to disability pensions, as part of a package of measures aiming, according to officials, at “curbing fake disabilities.”

The measures dictate that only people who need at least one hospital stay per year will be eligible for government benefits. They must present discharge papers to the relevant authorities in order to claim their paychecks.

What was already a controversial measure was made worse by Azerbaijan's COVID-19 restrictions, which have seen public rehabilitation centers temporarily close across the country in order to minimize contact.

As a result, many Azerbaijanis with disabilities are currently unable to prove they are disabled because they are unable to receive treatment at the closed health centers.

Government pensions are the sole source of income for many disabled citizens. It is estimated that over seven thousand Azerbaijanis have lost their disability paychecks since September, according to data by the Ministry itself.

In a September 2020 interview, the Press Secretary for the State Agency for Medical and Social Expertise and Rehabilitation, Gulnar Azizova said authorities will reopen rehabilitation centers once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. On March 19, Azerbaijani authorities extended the quarantine regime until June.

These setbacks prompted many families to protest in front of the building of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection in early March demanding the reinstatement of the pensions.

Families protest outside the Ministry of Labor and Social Services in the capital Baku on March 10, 2021. Video screenshot/Azadliq Radio.

Mothers speaking to local media outside the Ministry's building said they want rehabilitation centers to reopen, pensions to be reinstated, and benefits to be increased to account for the setbacks posed by the current economic conditions.

In March 2020, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas warned that “little has been done to provide people with disabilities with the guidance and support needed to protect them during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” She added that states should address the needs of people with disabilities by taking additional measures to “guarantee the continuity of support” for the group that already faces structural discrimination in their communities.

One recommendation voiced by Devandas was increasing financial aid to this community to cover basic needs, such as food delivery and medication.

Without having access to government support, some disabled citizens sought family support and have been receiving rehabilitation treatments at private clinics.

Refail Veten-Das Quliyev, 58, retired Physics teacher, said on Facebook:

Səhhətimdə yaranmış çox ciddi problemlər məni özəl bərpa reabilitasiya mərkəzinə müraciət etməyə məcbur etdi. Dövlət müəssisələrindən imdad diləsəm də səsimə səs verən tapılmadı. Rəhmətlik Məlik Abbasovun taleyini yaşamayım deyə qohum-dostların köməyindən istifadə edərək özəl reabilitasiya mərkəzi olan Suraxanı Tibbi Bərpa Mərkəzində hal hazırda müalicə alıram. Çox gülərüz, mehriban kollektivi var. Müalicələr qaneedicidir. İşlərinə məsuliyyətlə yanaşırlar. Xəstələrə xüsusi diqqət və qayğı göstərilir. Həkimim Sevinc xanım savadlı, işgüzar və bacarıqlı həkimdir, peşəsinə hörmətlə yanaşır. Hər zaman xəstələrinin vəziyyəti ilə maraqlanır, proseduraları qəbul edərkən onları nəzarətdə saxlayır. İmkanı olan əlillərimiz bu müalicə məkəzinin xidmətindən istifadə edə bilərlər.

Very serious problems with my health forced me to receive treatment at a private rehabilitation center. Despite my many attempts, public rehab centers didn't respond to me. In order to not relive the fate of Malik Abbasov [a man with disability who died in March 2021], with support from my friends and family I'm receiving treatment at the private Surakhani Medical Rehabilitation Center. The staff is kind and caring. Treatment is satisfactory. They are responsible at their work. Patients receive special attention. My doctor Mrs. Sevinj is well-educated, professional and competent doctor, and respects her profession. She's interested in her patients’ well-being and keeps checking-in as they go through procedures. Persons with disabilities who can afford this place can use their services.

According to national regulations, Azerbaijanis with disabilities and patients confined to bed care are entitled to professional health home-based care services by the government. However, this isn't widely provided and available in the country, according to the November 2020 country report on the impact of COVID-19 on older people and caregivers by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IRFC).

The report also notes that reduced access to hospitals, pharmacies, emergency services, and polyclinics was especially felt by older people with chronic diseases and people with disabilities.

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