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AfriNEAD addressing lack of research about disability in Africa
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing Division: Daniel Bugan
Published: 01/12/2020

​​The Stellenbosch University (SU) Year for Persons with Disability has culminated in the sixth African Network for Evidence-to- Action in Disability (AfriNEAD) conference, a prestigious international network event that is hosted by SU this week.

The two-day virtual conference, themed “Disability Unplugged: Beyond Charters and Conventions: What really matters to persons with disabilities in Africa", offers keynote speakers, research evidence and roundtable discussions involving academics, governments officials and civil society representatives.

Founded by SU's Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in 2007, AfriNEAD aims to ensure that networking and research contribute to a better quality of life for people with disabilities in Africa.

Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at SU, noted in his welcoming message that AfriNEAD has become a significant facilitator around the needs of people with disabilities on the African continent.

“It has done so by translating disability research into meaningful advocacy, practice, products and policy. And – very importantly – by fostering sound relationships.

“This resonates well with the vision of Stellenbosch University, which directs us to 'advance knowledge in service of society'. To this end, one of our strategic themes is to conduct 'research for impact'. We strive to be relevant to the people of our country, continent and the rest of the world."

De Villiers said 2020 has been declared the Year of Persons with Disabilities at the University, in line with its commitment to inclusivity and promotion of equal opportunities for all.

Prof Jimmy Volmink, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Science at SU, said the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to reflect, re-evaluate and reset.

“For people living with disabilities the consequences of the pandemic have been particularly dire. Marginalised as they are in many societies, those with disabilities experience more severe isolation and have greater difficulty gaining access to essential health care and social services. For them the impact of a loss of income is even more profound than that felt by others."

He said AfriNEAD is realising its vision to address the lack of research about disability on the African continent.

“AfriNEAD has succeeded in establishing a dynamic network of stakeholders in Africa and beyond who are actively sharing ideas and evidence.  A new open-access journal – the African Journal of Disability – has been formed, making research about disability issues in Africa available. This journal is growing from strength to strength.

“AfriNEAD has also been instrumental in telling the life stories of people with disability. These stories highlight important issues that are fundamental to advancing human rights advocacy and influencing policy."

With reference to the theme of the conference, Volmink said: “The theme draws attention to the many aspirational statements on human rights that exist such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But I think the ultimate intent of the conference is also to challenge us to ask the important questions: How do we go beyond statements of intent to real transformation? And how can persons with disabilities in Africa contribute to this transformation?

“COVID-19 has highlighted the need to build health systems that will provide access to quality care for all. It has emphasised the need to defend the integrity of science, to generate new knowledge and to promote evidence-based decision making. But science and the provision of healthcare alone are not sufficient. We need to advance social justice as this is the key to better health and well-being."