Zimbabwe: Disabled HIV infected overlooked in prevention campaigns

By Yolanda Ndlovu – Harare, July 18, 2012: Despite being vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual abuse, disabled people are often overlooked in national HIV prevention strategies because policy makers do not perceive them as sexually active, representatives of disabled groups said on Tuesday.

Hamida Ismail of the Disability, HIV and AIDS Trust (DHAT) told audiences at a Food for Thought discussion session held at the United States Embassy’s Public Affairs Section Auditorium“If we look at the current National Aids Strategic Plan for 2008 to 2015, it fails to mention people living with disabilities and they are not deliberately targeted in the national response,” Hamida Ismail of the Disability, HIV and AIDS Trust (DHAT) told audiences at a Food for Thought discussion session held at the United States Embassy’s Public Affairs Section Auditorium.

She said the unavailability of disaggregated national statistics with specific numbers of people living with disabilities made their plight worse. However, she said, the percentage of disabled people living positively was very high.

“There are gaps in terms of the supportive networks.  We have the Zimbabwe Network for Persons Living Positively with HIV (ZNNPP+), but these do not cater for many disabled yet we have a very high number of people with disabilities living with HIV,” said Ismail who made her full presentation in sign language.

She applauded the progress done by HIV service organisations in Zimbabwe to raise awareness and reduce HIV prevalence, but pointed out that these were not targeting the disabled.

“The National Aids Council has come up with good strategies but people with disabilities don’t know about them — they are not informed and are not targeted,” she said.

Ismail challenged organisations to use human-rights based interventions for the disabled living with HIV.  She highlighted that their help was limited, however, and at times they failed to come through on promises.

She said the Disability Grant provided by the government was inadequate and the process of acquiring the funding was too cumbersome for disabled people resulting in deserving individuals failing to access the money.

“The government has come up with really good programmes [like] the Cash Transfer Programme where they are giving people with disabilities $20 a month, but one has to go through a rigorous process to get the money. As a result, a significant portion of the disabled fail to access the funding.”

Apart from being excluded from national HIV/Aids programmes, Ismail highlighted challenges including stigma, discrimination, and high levels of poverty especially in the rural areas. She noted the disabled often face a lack of confidentiality at voluntary counselling and testing centres due to the presence of an interpreter.

“Communities are not sensitized, even health workers have a general assumption that disabled people are asexual (and) unfortunately the judiciary has not been sensitized, they don’t know how to defend women and girls with disabilities who have been raped,” she said.

She said these challenges could be overcome by developing disability-friendly information that the disabled could understand, particularly for the blind and deaf.

DHAT was established in 2007 to promote the rights and capacity of Persons with Disabilities infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. Ismali said the organisation had started working with the Population Services International Zimbabwe on the male circumcision campaign to also include disabled people. ZimPAS(c) July 18, 2012