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End Of Covid Restrictions Doesn’t End Disabled People’s Right To Health

The last of the Covid protections may have lifted, but disabled people still have the right to health and the right to support, says Kaihautū Tika Hauātanga Disability Rights Commissioner Prudence Walker.

“The restrictions may have gone but the impact of Covid will be with us for a long time.

Our attention must be focussed on removing barriers to healthcare, and to the disability support system, in response to the reality of the post-Covid protections world we now live in.”

The right to health includes access to both timely, accessible, and appropriate healthcare, which tāngata whaikaha Māori and disabled people face many barriers to.

“A largely hidden group of us who are at higher risk of experiencing the health impacts of Covid have needed to isolate to a greater extent than the general public over the last few years, and we will continue to need to do so.”

The high risks of Covid to many disabled people was clear in figures recently released by the Ministry of Health and Whaikaha Ministry of Disabled People, which showed disabled people receiving funded disability supports experienced significantly worse outcomes: being seven times more likely to die and 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital.

Walker says that not only is Covid still present in our communities but repeat exposure to Covid also increases the risk of developing Long Covid.

Much is unknown about long-term prognosis for people with Long Covid, but some experts have called it a ‘mass disabling event’.

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Many people with post-viral illnesses from Covid, including those who develop myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome, would meet the United Nation’s definition of a disabled person.

However, people with diagnoses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, alongside other rare disorders arising from Covid, are not eligible for government funded disability support, regardless of the severity of their condition.

Additional notes:

For our short guidance on duties regarding the right to health see: https://tikatangata.org.nz/human-rights-in-aotearoa/right-to-health

Key points include:

Right to freedoms: from non-consensual medical treatment, from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment

Entitlements: access to medicines and benefit from scientific progress, equal and timely access to basic health services, participation in decision-making at national & community level

Non-discrimination: crucial to the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health

Governments must take deliberate and targeted steps, to the maximum extent of their available resources, to help all people be as healthy as possible and give effect to the right to health in a non-discriminatory manner.

A human rights approach to healthcare service delivery is also important – consultation, participation, inclusion and protection of the vulnerable.

The Right to Health is a Fundamental Human Right (Art 12, ICESCR)

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

No express right to health in Aotearoa New Zealand but recognised in legislation related to human rights and healthcare services.

Some rights have specific application to the health sector, e.g., right to healthcare, right to refuse treatment, right to liberty, right to dignity.

Other rights have a significant impact on underlying determinants of health and health outcomes – e.g., right to a decent home, right to education, right to an adequate standard of living, right to be free from discrimination.

WHO: standards of health are higher when people are able to enjoy their rights to participation, non-discrimination, education, and an adequate standard of living. The vast inequities in health throughout the world result from “a toxic combination of poor social policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangements and bad politics” Such policies, programmes and economic arrangements are violations of human rights.

Regarding the comment: “Many people with post-viral illnesses from Covid, including those who develop myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome, would meet the United Nation’s definition of a disabled person.”

This has been tested in the US and meets the ADA https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/civil-rights-covid19/guidance-long-covid-disability/index.html

Long Covid and ME/CFS are widely talked about as meeting the UNCRPD definition in terms of effect "impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

In terms of "long-term condition", NZ has different working definitions of disability, but which generally use 'expecting to last for at least six months'.

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