10 December 2012

Uganda: Plan for the Blind, Deaf On HIV Prevention

JULIE (not real name) is a 14-year-old girl with hearing impairment. Initially she was raped and later repeatedly coerced into sex with gifts and threats by a businessman.

She couldn't communicate that to her parents and peers. Julie's sign language teacher discovered the problem and assisted parents to seek for justice.

Her parents discouraged legal action citing double embarrassment. The medical report proved the man to be HIV positive and hence Julie's future can be predicted.

Julie, like other people with disabilities is perceived to be sexually inactive; but like any other persons, Julie is not only sexually active but also attractive.

People with disabilities need knowledge and skills to enable them handle their sexual feelings, resist sexual coercion, negotiate for safer sex or postpone sex altogether.

According to WHO, 600 million people living with disability exist worldwide and 80% of these are in developing countries.

As we commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, and Disability day on December 3, we need to reflect on the impact that disability can have on the HIV epidemic.

People with visual and hearing impairment struggle to adopt alternative ways to paint a picture of sex life and its implications.

They face challenges of sexual abuse and risks to acquiring HIV infection due to inadequate knowledge and skills about the HIV prevention.

Stigma and discrimination disallows them to choose their sexual partners. They are likely to have more sexual partners to exchange sex with acceptability in society.

HIV preventive messages are usually designed in audio and video forms which hearing and visually impaired people cannot use.

Alternative channels of communicating HIV preventive methods are not available.

The Uganda National HIV Strategic Plan (2011/12-2014/15), the 2008 UN convention on rights of persons with disabilities and the 2006 UNAIDS guidelines on HIV and human rights, provide for equal access to all services including people with disabilities.

The policy framework is favourable for HIV prevention but implementation remains poor.

The writer is a MakSPH-CDC fellow attached to Mildmay Uganda.

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