Uganda: Deaf demand inclusion in HIV programmes

KAMPALA, 5 April 2012

Leaders of the deaf community in Uganda say the government’s HIV programmes have failed them because their special needs are not taken into consideration.
“I am disappointed with the way the government has acted… they are not sensitive to deaf persons. There are no specialized health facilities where the deaf can access HIV services,” Alex Ndezi, a deaf Ugandan legislator for persons with disabilities, told IRIN/PlusNews.

“The government has failed to train health workers in sign language. Whenever they [deaf people] go to health centres they need interpreters, who require payment… [few] can afford to pay… [them].”

According to UNAIDS, people with disabilities may be at risk of HIV infection for a number of reasons, including “insufficient access to appropriate HIV prevention and support services, and their higher risk of experiencing sexual assault or abuse… They may also be turned away from HIV education forums or not be invited by outreach workers because of assumptions that they are not sexually active, or do not engage in other risk behaviours such as injecting drugs.”

Alex Lawoko, chairperson of northern Uganda’s Gulu Association, told IRIN/PlusNews that deaf girls and women were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and often became sex workers due to poverty.

“We need to include livelihood projects in fighting against HIV/AIDS in the deaf community… deaf females we interviewed in regard to their reasons for sexual trade said they are looking for income, as they lack money to support their life,” he said.

Deaf people miss out on radio programmes and adverts aimed at educating people about HIV, while television broadcasts on the topic are rarely accompanied by sign language interpretation.

Christine Ondoa, Uganda’s Health Minister, told IRIN/PlusNews that her ministry had finalized a document on HIV/AIDS strategic plans, programmes, services, and “all the HIV and related issues among people with disabilities; all [the points] they have raised are addressed in the document”.

The Ministry of Health, the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the School of Public Health at Makerere University in the capital, Kampala, will soon begin the first ever HIV-related survey among deaf people in the greater Kampala area. There are no statistics on HIV levels among the deaf.

Using a video-based sign language questionnaire, the research will investigate respondents’ general health status, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, as well as access to health care, HIV testing, treatment and care, and HIV-related risk behaviours. It will also offer participants the option to test for HIV and syphilis. Treatment for syphilis will be provided while HIV-infected respondents will be referred to care and treatment providers.

The survey, funded by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), aims to interview a sample size of 1,000 deaf adults residing in Kampala, Mukono, Wakiso and Mpigi districts. It is expected to start by June 2012 and run for six months.

“Surveillance is a core public health function. It informs both policy-making and programme planning. Surveys are also used for public health advocacy and general community awareness,” said Wolfgang Hladik, an epidemiologist at CDC-Uganda.

The survey is the first step towards an opportunity to create well-informed, effective HIV prevention, treatment and care strategies for deaf people. “It’s a welcome move. We are going to support and ensure it succeeds,” said Ndezi. “There has been no information and data on HIV among the deaf persons.”

[Courtesy of IRIN Plus News]

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