People with disabilities are not receiving adequate information and services to meet their needs for sexual and reproductive health.
With HIV added to the picture, they face stigma and discrimination from most service providers.
Article 54 of the Kenyan Constitution sets out the rights of people with disabilities. This includes the right to be treated with dignity and respect, the right to access educational institutions and facilities, and the right to reasonable access to all places, public transport and information.
However, despite the Persons with Disabilities Act, most of their rights are being infringed on a daily basis, especially when it comes to service provision.
Njeri* is a young disabled girl living with HIV. She is an orphan whose mother died while she was still young. Life to her is hard due to her disability.
A good samaritan sponsored her to go to school and even bought her a wheelchair.
After her primary education she was enrolled in a local hair and beauty training school where she learnt her professional skills.
But much as she tried to get employed in the many salons in her area, she was not successful because her prospective employers were not keen to employ a disabled person.
She started a small business of selling sweets by the roadside, but it was barely enough to sustain her.
One day when she was leaving her roadside shop it started to rain and she took shelter in a building that was under construction. That was the day her life would forever change.
Njeri was gang raped in that building and left in the cold. With no one to wipe her tears, Njeri spent the night in that building alone, afraid, and confused, with the rain to wash away her tears but not the pain and trauma that still lingers in her heart.
When Njeri was raped, she fell pregnant and was infected with HIV. Her life was shattered. The well wisher she had been living with all along turned her away, saying if she could get herself pregnant it meant she could take care of herself.
When Njeri started antenatal care she faced a lot of stigma in the form of abuse, insults and badmouthing from the healthcare providers.
“Wewe ni kiwete wa aina gani, unaenda kujipatia ukimwi na mimba na hata hujiwezi?” “What type of a disabled person are you who gets herself HIV and pregnant”, she would be asked by the nurses.
Her response was just tears and more tears. At this time she had moved in with a friend but, unfortunately for Njeri, she was not able to carry her baby to term.
She lost her baby which, as painful as this was, she sometimes looks at as a blessing in disguise. How would she take care of her baby and herself considering her state of affairs?
The perception that people with disabilities are not sexually active means they are not provided with essential sexual and reproductive health services such as condoms and family planning.
This means the majority risk having unprotected sex and keeping multiple partners, which places them at risk of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Juma* is living with HIV. He is deaf and dumb. He is married to a woman who is not physically challenged.
Juma has had several other partners and as a result has contacted HIV, which he has also transmitted to his wife.
While his wife was able to access a Comprehensive Care Center services without a problem, he faced challenges due to his disability.
Kenya’s national HIV response and policies should incorporate programs that are tailor-made to address people with disabilities’ sexuality and their needs for sexual reproductive health services and access to knowledge about HIV and AIDS.
This includes developing and disseminating information material in Braille and sign language that reach people with disabilities, and making condoms available for them.
Article 7 (3) of the Kenyan Constitution provides that the government shall promote the development and use of indigenous languages, Kenyan sign language, Braille and other communication formats and technologies accessible to persons with disabilities.
Mary* is blind and living with HIV. “How could I get sick? I am blind, I can’t even see!” she says. “That was my attitude when I learnt about my HIV status.”
She adds, “To accept myself I tried to look for information and material to help me cope, but to no avail. Everything I found was not friendly to the blind. To date I can still say that we are the forgotten population.”
*Some of the names in this feature have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.