Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Deaf & HIV/AIDS in Uganda

From the newsroom of the New Vision, Kampala, South Africa, Tuesday, December 14, 2004 .....

HIV And Aids: the Deaf Get a Raw Deal


Joseph Mbulamwana

WHILE statistics indicate that the rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Uganda has scaled down, it is sad to note that among the deaf the trend is fast rising.

The decline in HIV/AIDS infection rates in this country have been brought about mainly by behavioural change as a result of massive information dissemination. Such efforts have not taken into account the unique needs of
the deaf.

A lot of information is available on HIV/AIDS however, it is 'deaf unfriendly' hence inaccessible by majority of the deaf.

Most of the available literature is in English in a country where 90% of the deaf cannot even write their own names.

The daily messages aired on FM radios do not benefit the deaf at all because they cannot hear. The numerous HIV/AIDS talk shows on televisions exclude the deaf because no sign language interpreter is provided to translate the messages.

The above situation is made worse by society's belief that the deaf are HIV/AIDS free or do not engage in sex.

The deaf women and girls face double discrimination in society, first as a woman then as deaf. Since 90% of the deaf in Uganda cannot write, the majority of these being women and girls, it then clear that their access to
economic opportunities are very limited.

Hence they are relegated to the world of abject poverty. Some end up giving in to whoever is willing to have sex with them for monetary gains as a means of survival.

Many of these women and girls are raped by those who take advantage of their deaf and dumb nature since they cannot make an alarm. In case the would be culprit is arrested not all Ugandans can understand sign language very well.

Despite the presence of many HIV/AIDS provision centres in the country, less than 100 deaf Ugandans may have taken HIV/AIDS tests. This is due to the fact that all the medical personnel in Uganda do not know sign language.

Access to counseling services and ARVs.

In order for one to access such services one has to go with a sign language interpreter whose costs she or he has to foot. Besides privacy of the information is not assured.

As a result many deaf people have shunned HIV/AIDS services due to high costs of interpreters and fear of lack of confidentiality. Many deaf people infected with the virus die earlier than any other person because they do not access such services.

With the meagre resources from her development partners,UNAD has implemented HIV/AIDS programmes for the deaf but only covering a few districts and within those districts only a few deaf benefitted.

There is an urgent need for funding organisations to consider supporting UNAD in implementing HIV/AIDS programmes for the deaf.

Out of the estimated 2.5 million disabled people in Uganda as per the 2002 national census 30% or 750,000 are deaf (WHO estimates 30% of disabled people to be deaf).

Any attempt to discriminate or exclude the deaf from the main stream HIV/AIDS programmes like it has and continues to be the case with other
development programmes will not by any means bring down the epidemic, but rather rejuvenate the spread of the virus hence rendering the already registered success a myth, because at the end there will be nothing on the ground to prove the already proclaimed success in bringing down the rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Uganda. 90% of the current marriages or relations among the deaf are with able bodied people. Aware that many people engage in
sex outside marriage then your guess on the consequences that would result if only one person got infected is as good as mine.

The long term solution to this is to have medical personnel trained in sign language so as to ensure easy and confidential access to HIV services and counselling by the deaf. In the meantime all government departments, NGOs
and civil society organisations working on HIV/AIDS related issues should support and work with UNAD in implementing deaf HIV/AIDS friendly services.

UNAD has the capacity to handle such programmes but is limited by funding to implement them.

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The writer is the Information Officer at Uganda National association of the Deaf (UNAD)