By Robert Tapfumaneyi
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.
In Zimbabwe, the unavailability of national statistics relating to the number of people living with disabilities makes their plight worse. However, Hamida Ismail of the Disability, HIV and AIDS Trust (DHAT), said that the percentage of disabled people living positively is estimated to be very high.
Ismail, who spoke at a meeting in Harare last Tuesday (10 July 2012), criticised the current National Aids Strategic Plan for 2008 to 2015 fails to mention people living with disabilities and they are not deliberately targeted in the national HIV response.
“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 [people] yet we have a very high number of people with disabilities living with HIV.”
Ismail, who communicated through sign language, praised the progress made by HIV service organisations in Zimbabwe to raise awareness and reduce HIV prevalence, but pointed out that people living with disabilities often miss out.
“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 disabled people living with HIV.
She said the disability grant provided by the government was inadequate and the process of acquiring the funding was too cumbersome for disabled people, which results 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.”
Ismali said DHAT has started working with the Population Services International Zimbabwe on its male circumcision campaign to ensure disabled people are also included in an attempt to bring HIV prevention services to people living with disabilities.
Apart from being excluded from national HIV/Aids programmes, Ismail highlighted other challenges facing disabled people as stigma, discrimination, and high levels of poverty, especially in the rural areas. She said disabled people 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, particularly for blind and deaf people.
DHAT was established in 2007 to promote the rights and capacity of people with disabilities infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.