22 November 2012

South Africa: Access to HIV Services a Barrier for Disabled People

Photo: Sarah-Eve Hammond/MSF
Receiving antiretroviral treatment.

Pretoria — People with disabilities are - if not more - vulnerable to HIV infection like the rest of the population, and they also face barriers to access to HIV and Aids services.

This is according to the 'Disability and HIV and Aids Best Practice Report' booklet, launched on Thursday by Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, in partnership with the South African National AIDS Council (Sanac) and UNAIDS.

The booklet captures the life stories of people with disabilities living with HIV, and tells often unheard, and unseen stories of real people and how the issues around HIV and disability have affected them.

According to the 2011 General Household Survey, it is estimated that approximately 5.2% of South Africans aged five years and older are disabled. Women (5.4%) were slightly more likely to be disabled than men (5%).

  • The report has revealed that people living with disabilities face barriers to access to HIV and Aids services mainly because:
  •  They are seen as asexual and so at minimal risk from HIV infection.
  •  They have poor physical access to many HIV Counselling and Testing sites, where there are issues of confidentiality around HIV testing for hard of hearing people to deal with.
  •  There is also a noticeable lack of accessible HIV and Aids information and prevention materials in Braille, South African Sign Language or simplified format for people with intellectual disabilities

Many people with disability live in poorer and outlying areas, where transport to health care centres and other facilities is not available, or if it is, it is unaffordable.

Speaking at the launch, Bogopane-Zulu said the booklet traced and documented their collective work as a sector across organisations for the past 10 years.

"I'am emotional because for me, it's not just a job. We are launching what we've been doing for 10 years. For us it's been a journey; we launch it with a lot of pride. Together, we know what our problems are, we know our challenges are, we know what can be done because we went out there and found solutions ourselves," said the deputy minister.

She said sex education, such as teaching people correct condom usage, largely neglected the needs of those with disabilities. This had forced them to find creative means of addressing the challenges.

She reiterated that people with disabilities knew what their challenges were; they just needed support to be able to share them with the rest of those like them.

"Despite you not having hands or being totally blind, you can take the responsibility for your own sexuality ... you have the right not to be infected with HIV."

Dr Rose Mulumba, executive manager in charge of the National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS at SANAC, said that the council wanted to focus its resources, time, energy and actions on people with disabilities.

"What we need from you is your collaboration in terms of what are the activities you think should be undertaken around people with disabilities. We don't want to ... dictate to you as a sector. What is it that can make a difference in as far as disability and Aids are concerned," said Mulumba.

UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Dr Catherine Sozi, said the booklet launch showed that when government, civil society and development partners got together, they could do well.

She noted that South Africa was ahead of a lot of the countries but there was still a lot of work to be done. She said the document was going to be disseminated throughout the world and hoped that a few years down the line, they could document the progress made since today's launch.

She said that UNAIDS will continue to support the sector to make sure they continued to fight and defend their rights.

"We need to analyse the data and make sure that we work towards access to rights, information, services," said Sozi.

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