Back to Index
at greater risk of HIV infection
Murinzi, Inter Press Service (IPS)
May 24, 2005
- ‘'Do you think I can go for an HIV test and be accepted?"
Zitha scoffs at the suggestion.
Disabled, and also a single mother, the 44-year-old swears her fear
of discrimination is no idle assumption. Rather, it is based on
her experience at a test centre she visited last year. ''The attitude
was horrible,'' she says.
Such fear of condemnation and disapproval is rooted in society's
tendency to scowl at evidence of the disabled person's sexuality.
Its effect renders disclosure largely unthinkable for those who
may test HIV positive.
''So they just die quietly in their homes without being noticed,''
says Annie Malinga, coordinator of the 400-member Zimbabwe Women
with Disabilities in Development (ZWIDE).
HIV/AIDS, according to a collaborative global survey by the World
Bank and Yale University, is a significant and almost unrecognised
problem among the world's 600 million-odd individuals who live with
physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental health disabilities.
Eighty percent are in the developing world, including countries
like Zimbabwe, which are badly affected by HIV/AIDS. More than 10
percent, or about 1.4 million people, in the Southern African country
have some form of disability.
The 57-nation study, whose findings were released last year, says
while all individuals with disabilities are at risk of HIV infection,
subgroups within the disabled population face a greater risk. These
are mostly women, members of ethnic and minority communities, adolescents
and those who live in institutions.
The fact that disabled people are more likely to have received little
or no education and to be out of employment places them among the
world's poorest, most stigmatised and most marginalised.
While the disabled are at also greater risk of violence or rape,
they are less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection
or health care.
Poverty and social sanctions against marrying a disabled person
mean that disabled women, in particular, are likely to become involved
in a series of unstable relationships. They are often targeted by
abusers who assume they are non-sexual and therefore safe.
''It's not really love; able-bodied men want to experiment on us,''
Zitha says. ''When they're done they go back to their own society
and you are dumped just like that.''
Where the disabled suffer from AIDS the effect is often called a
''double impact''. HIV status adds to the existing stigmatisation
brought by a disability. For women, AIDS may triple the stigmatisation.
''You are disadvantaged first as a woman, stigmatised as a disabled
woman and then you are stigmatised as a woman with HIV and AIDS,''
Even where they choose to face up to HIV, disabled women have difficulty
in accessing services. ''You find that the testing centres are miles
away, and the buses themselves are not accessible for someone on
a wheelchair,'' she says. The female condom, too, is unsuitable
for women with certain forms of disability.
Due to the special needs of the disabled, making information available
to them is often the biggest challenge for AIDS service organisations,
including the country's National AIDS Council.
But the commitments, and resources, are often short. ''They think
disabled people are not sexually active and hence not vulnerable,
so they leave us out of their programmes,'' says Chrispen Manyuke
of the Federation of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe.
The most effective intervention, he adds, is to allocate funds and
allow individual disability organisations to run their own programmes.
Visually-impaired Clemence Mupasi says there is presently very little
literature in Braille, even among school children where HIV/AIDS
is now part of the national curriculum from forth grade upwards.
''We rely on the radio, but when you read it's different from listening;
you get to understand better,'' he says.
A major concern is the disinclination to involve the disable in
policy planning, even on matters that affect them. ''There is a
tendency of not listening to what a disabled person is saying,''
But official policy is all for ''mainstreaming'' people with disabilities.
''Whatever we plan, we need to think of the cross-section of our
society and not think for them,'' says Mkhululi Nceda-Moyo, a government
psychologist who works with children with special needs.
What activists have so far failed to do in highlighting the disabled
person's exclusion from AIDS programmes could be left to political
lobbyists. But in Zimbabwe the disability lobby appears at it weakest.
It seems political and social problems in the last five years have
relegated disability issues to the periphery. There is presently
no disabled person in parliament; neither did the country have a
disabled legislator in the last five years.
"What we need is a disabled member of parliament from each
of the 10 national provinces," Manyuke says.
Even then, the country has a plethora of organisations looking after
the needs of the disabled. Yet it appears very few are focusing
on vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
''Ultimately if you look at most of them they are trying to look
into the material needs of their members but they've forgotten that
they cannot ignore health and some social issues,'' says Boniface
Hlabano of the Matabeleland AIDS Council (MAC), an AIDS service
non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in the country's southern
MAC has just launched a three-year programme meant to highlight,
and address, the disabled person's susceptibility to HIV/AIDS. Its
implementation follows results of a survey conducted by the organisation
which showed that the disabled have largely been left out of existing
MAC intends to develop a model on how to lessen the likelihood of
the disabled getting the virus. ''At the end of the day we want
inclusion and active participation,'' Hlabano says.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.