African Campaign Launched

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BYLINE: Lina Lindblom

Everywhere you go in South Africa there are posters on HIV and Aids. The people behind these posters go to great pains to include people who are white and black, people who are urban and rural, young and old – to catch the attention of people in a multicultural society.

But I bet that you have never seen anyone with a disability included in any of these posters. Why is this? We know that it is not because HIV does not concern them. “Individuals with disability are at equal to significantly greater risk for all HIV/Aids risk factors”, it has been concluded in a global survey by the World Bank and Yale University.

“Clearly Aids among disabled and non-disabled persons is of the same type, so there is no reason not to address us”, says Yetnebersh Nigussie from Ethiopia.

Because Aids organisations and governments’ HIV responses are not reaching out to people with disabilities, disability organisations are taking matters into their own hands.

In several African countries such as Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda they have come a long way in establishing their own HIV programmes that include training workshops and development of information in formats accessible to blind and deaf people.

These initiatives are needed because they fill a gap in the official approach to HIV in Africa. “Disabled persons’ organisations run their own programmes because their members are becoming HIV positive, some are living with Aids and some have died.

“Their members are ignorant of prevention measures and not reached by national education and control programs”, Yetnebersh Nigussie says.

But disability organisations are really doing what governments should be doing. It is not the responsibility of disability groups to take care of HIV information, training and other HIV prevention efforts for people with disabilities.

The African Union of the Blind (AFUB) has developed HIV training and resource materials that address the needs of blind and partially sighted people, and adapted these into accessible formats for visually impaired people, such as Braille, large print and audio. So far they have trained 1 500 visually impaired people in their regions on HIV/Aids and related issues such as counselling and testing and where to get this service, HIV/Aids management and anti-retroviral therapy, sexually transmitted infections and home-based care.

Catherine Mwayonga is a 53-year- old Kenyan mother of six and a primary school teacher. She is blind. And she is HIV positive. She works as a trainer with AFUB. She says that she talks about her status, because she believes it is the only way to change people’s attitudes. “The virus does not discriminate – but people and services most certainly do,” she tells me.

The Lesotho Society of Mentally Handicapped Persons, which consists of 12 parent organisations from southern and eastern Africa, has HIV and Aids training as its main activity.

In Uganda, the disability movement has formed a committee that brings all disability organisations together to work collectively on HIV. The national association of women with disabilities in Ethiopia runs its own HIV programme with awareness raising, training, counselling and research.

A network of organisations similar to the Ugandan committee is being built in Ethiopia now. These are but a few examples of a new wave of grassroots initiatives on disability and HIV.

But these are often small, ad-hoc efforts with very limited resources, and in many countries the link between disability and HIV has not been made visible at all. Now, a continental approach has just been launched that aims to learn from the existing activities and bring together disability organisations, Aids organisations, governments and other development and funding agencies to work together to improve the situation. …