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RAISA YEBO November 2003
Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa/VSO
November 06, 2003

Dear Friends and Partners,

November’s RAISA YEBO is focused on HIV, AIDS and Disability. An area that has been some what overlooked by many organisations and/or people.

In order to write this regional overview one of RAISA’s coordinators undertook a considerable number of searches on the web for HIV & Disability. Almost nothing came up. This is indicative of the lack of action around both HIV & Disability as intertwined issues around rights and discrimination. Since HIV, AIDS and Disability is a "forgotten" area, RAISA would like to give attention to this matter.

In THE LANCET, April 26, 2003 it was stated that although AIDS researchers have studied the disabling effects of HIV/AIDS on previous healthy people, little attention has been given to the risk of HIV/AIDS for individuals who have a physical, sensory, intellectual or mental health disability before becoming infected. It was also stated that it is commonly assumed that people with disability are not at risk. It is said that a growing body of research indicates that disabled people are actually at increased risk for every known risk factor for HIV and AIDS. (THE LANCET,

"With regard to the discrimination that results from disability, what is critical is not the fact that differential treatment is accorded because of the difference, but that the criteria used are irrelevant and cannot justify such differential treatment". U N Commission on Human Rights Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities statement from UNAIDS.

VSO RAISA is among the small number of organisations looking at what are the issues around HIV & Disability frequently leading to double discrimination. We are committed not only to supporting the development of and access to materials around HIV & AIDS for people with disabilities. We are also working with organisations focusing on disability and HIV & AIDS to bring synergies to their work in order that people with disabilities are not further discriminated by actions or neglect.

About 18 months ago 3 volunteers working in the Disability sector began "Mainstreaming" HIV and AIDS in their work places. It very quickly became apparent that the level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS amongst the disabled community in Namibia was extremely low, that HIV and AIDS material designed for their specific needs were non-existent and finally that people with disabilities were

RAISA has published a report on this conference: HIV& AIDS and Disability, which can be obtained from your RAISA country coordinator. (Also available in Braille and on audiotapes).

RAISA Namibia has given a small grant to the National federation of People with Disabilities Namibia, The

Federation for the Visually Impaired and one for the Federation for the Hearing Impaired. These grants were used for training workshops and need assessment studies. RAISA Nambia also sponsored The National Federation for People with Disabilities Namibia to attend a conference on HIV and AIDS in Swaziland and a workshop in South Africa. RAISA Namibia also has a RAISA volunteer working as a HIV/AIDS advisor for the federation and had another working in the Ministry for Disability.

People with disabilities lack access to information particularly on HIV and AIDS and this puts them more at risk. The blind cannot access most of the IEC (Information, Education and Communication) materials available, and messages from the electronic media can hardly reach the deaf. And there are few educational institutions for the disabled. And because of this, people with disabilities have little or no knowledge about HIV transmission and AIDS.

VSO Malawi has a disability programme area and has developed partnerships with Disabled Partner Organisations (DPOs) and placement of volunteer development workers (VDW) to work with the DPOs in trying to address the problems that people with disabilities face. As an entry point, the VDWs are working on capacity building of the DPOs. However, HIV and AIDS cannot be isolated just as it is in any other VSO's intervention. One VDW working with the Ministry Responsible for People with Disabilities as a capacity builder, has managed to secure funding and embarked on a huge project involving the ministry and other DPOs which is trying to address the issues of HIV and AIDS and the related problems. Another volunteer, working as an occupational therapist, is sensitising fellow members of staff on how they can disseminate information on HIV and AIDS to people with disabilities and other beneficiaries.

The RAISA small grant fund provided funding to the Malawi Union of the Blind for the production of IEC materials in Braille. It is hoped that this will increase and improve access of HIV and AIDS information for the blind. (For more info contact

VSO RAISA Zimbabwe works with two partners on disability: The Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD) and the Zimbabwe Albino Association (Zimas). The Zimas Intervention Programme acts in the fight against the spread of HIV&AIDS in women and children with albinism.

Human rights advocacy is the major activity of Zimas besides providing sunscreen lotions, spectacles, counselling and training counsellors. In September 2003 Zimas held a stakeholders’ workshop to plan on the best way to fight the spread of HIV&AIDS through sexual abuse of women and children with albinism. The planning workshop was the first

stage/activity of a three-year project on preventing the spread of HIV&AIDS through sexual abuse of women and children with albinism. The workshop turned out to be an eye opener in more than one way. Participants exhibited a general understanding of albinism in terms of description on the physical characteristics although the concept that the condition was a disability appeared to be new to them.

Some of the reasons why women and children with albinism were sexually abused were given out as:

  • Cultural beliefs
  • Society regarded people with albinism as outcasts therefore easily taken advantage of
  • Lack of education on albinism
  • People with albinism cannot easily marry so they are easily enticed by the first person that gives them attention

Participants noted that people with albinism particularly women and children where involved in the planning of the workshop. The participants felt there was a need for more government involvement in such workshops. Another outstanding opinion was the general appreciation of the opportunity to interact with people with albinism and hear from them the problems they face on a day-to-day basis.

All recommendations at the workshop have been included in the operational plan for the three-year project. More workshops are being planned for the near future.

RAISA has given Zimas a grant in the last financial year, which was used for advocacy. Mr. Richard Sibanda, director of Zimas, has attended RAISA’s regional conference on HIV, AIDS & Men and the regional RAISA 2 planning session.

Mr. Phiri, Secretary General of SAFOD, had attended the conference on HIV, AIDS & Disability in Namibia on behalf of SAFOD. SAFOD is a coalition of umbrella organisations in Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Angola. At the conference Mr. Phiri shared his thoughts on HIV and Disability in Zimbabwe. Here are some thoughts:

  • There is work being done on People with Disability, but there is no coherent coordination and enough networking and sharing of resources.
  • There is need for mainstreaming of People with Disability issues in NGO and government work.

For more info please contact

VSO South Africa currently doesn’t work directly with any organisations focussing on disabilities. However one of VSO RAISA South Africa’s partners: the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) is undertaking research on the topic. Professor Leslie Swartz (university of Stellenbosch), who is working for the HSRC, is doing research on HIV& AIDS and Disability and gave us the following information:

It is well established from international research that disabled people are at greater risk than others to sexual abuse, and this may add concomitantly to risk of HIV infection. Apart from sexual abuse in the community at large, according to numerous anecdotal reports, disabled people are at risk for sexual abuse by caregivers both within domestic situations and within institutional care. Consultations with the disability sector in South Africa have unearthed stories of people with disabilities who had been taught nothing about HIV and AIDS, who had had sexual contact (voluntary or forced) and who became ill and died without knowing the cause of the illness. Given the considerable health risks disabled people face, and the probability that these are even higher than in the general population, there is an urgent need both for data on what the situation is and for the development of disability-specific intervention strategies. There is considerable concern about HIV within the disability sector in Africa at present, as discussions at the recent Africa Consultative Conference on Disability showed, but little action.

Next year, The Human Science Research Council is hoping to organize together with DICAG (Disabled Children's Action Group) a conference on Disability, Violence against children and HIV hoping this will be a launch to a major research/intervention programme.

Another organization in South Africa dealing with the disabled is DPSA, Disabled People South Africa. DPSA was formed in 1984 by disabled people who saw the need for a representative body to plan and implement programmes of benefit to disabled people with a members of 150 self help groups/member organisations, DPSA is the democratic cross-disability umbrella body of organisations of people with disabilities in South Africa, recognised as the National Assembly of Disabled People by Disabled Peoples` International (DPI), which has observer status in the United Nations. 5 staff members of different offices of DPSA attended the conference on HIV, AIDS & Disability in Namibia. Among the outcomes after attending the conference are the networking with colleagues in Namibia and setting up regional campaigns in South Africa on HIV&AIDS and Disability.

(For more info please contact

Frans Sijtsma is a volunteer development worker working with ADEMIMO, the Mozambican Association of war veterans with disability, in Mozambique. Here follows Frans’ report.

Taking up the challenge
When I think about disabled people and HIV&AIDS, than I think about exclusion. Disabled people are excluded from everything. Excluded from information, education, medical care, jobs, transport. In brief they are excluded from participating as normal people in the society of Mozambique. Disabled people belong to the poorest, most vulnerable and most discriminated of groups.

The HIV&AIDS pandemic is just one of the (major) problems the disabled people have to face. We can't solve the HIV&AIDS problem if we see this as an isolated problem. Sexual behaviour has everything to do with social behaviour, the respect of other people in general and of women and disabled persons in particular. Disabled persons have to be considered as full members of society. We have to include them in the mainstream of social life in Mozambique. This asks for a change in the attitude of Mozambican people towards disabled people as well as change in the behaviour of the disabled people themselves. This is a long-term issue, but it is the best way. We have to work on this very hard. We, as aid-workers, should make a start in respecting disabled persons. We can ask them to help us, to help them.

Frans is working for ADEMIMO organisation of disabled war-veterans in Mozambique. It represents more than 10,000 disabled people and HIV&AIDS is one of the issues they are dealing with. ADEMIMO wants to approach its members about HIV&AIDS through a system of activists. In every province they currently have 3 activists working with people with disabilities. However, until now, these activists don't have access to actual information, and don't have the means to travel. Other disability-organisations have the same system.

For more info contact


At the moment in Zambia there are no volunteer development workers placed at a disabled organisation.

RAISA has given a small grant to DISACARE to hold two radio shows to help raise the profile of disabled persons in Zambia, as well as create AIDS awareness. Two programmes were aired on radio Zambia and a lot of interest was generated. DISACARE compiled a directory of other organisations that are targeting the disabled for purposes of forming a network. At the moment DISACARE has been working with RAISA to look at ways of supporting their planned activities. Contact has been made with the Copperbelt health organisation project to help DISACARE formulate an HIV/AIDS policy and Kara Counselling has also been approached to see how they can help to train DISACARE members in counselling and peer education.

Since recently RAISA has been in contact with the Zambia Association for Children with Disabilities. Venice Nakawala, project coordinator for the Livingstone's Zambia Association For Children With Disabilities spoke with RAISA Zambia to find out if RAISA could link her up with an organisation that deals with deaf and mute children so that they could exchange notes on how to provide psychosocial counselling to a deaf and mute child on HIV/AIDS. Links have been made with Friends of Magwero, who do similar work in the Eastern Province and with a child counsellor at Kara Counselling and Training Trust for ongoing support to the children. As a result of this linkage the organizations have received a grant from RAISA for training of parents in counselling skills.

For more info contact


  • Videos
    Video ‘Protect Yourself’ produced by VSO and the British Council in Ghana is an HIV awareness video produced by and for Deaf people in Ghana. The rap contains safe sex messages and visuals with essential information for young people. A booklet of classroom activities to accompany the video is also available. The video is available free of charge for educational use. For more details contact

  • Audio tapes
    VSO Namibia has some tapes for the visually impaired on basic information about HIV& AIDS, these are produced in several local languages. For more information contact

  • Books/reports
    ‘HIV, AIDS and Disability’
    (Report, National Conference 10-12 June, Windhoek, Namibia)
    This book/report is also available in Braille and on audio videotapes

Visit the VSO Zimbabwe fact sheet

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