In the fight against HIV and AIDS, deaf people are falling through the cracks as they are facing further barriers in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The stigma they continue to face has made them both high-risk and difficult-to-reach, said Disability advocate, Shirley Keoagile.
“The exclusion of the deaf in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our bedridden HIV/AIDS country is an influential vulnerability factor that may slow down prevention measures,” she said.
Keoagile added, “There is a lack of information provided in accessible format for people with sensory impairments or intellectual disabilities and it is a wrong assumption that deaf people are not sexually active at all.
“The AIDS pandemic will not be overcome without systematic involvement of deaf people and not their hearing leaders, the deaf need to stand on their own in their language so as to decrease communication barriers and miscommunication,” she said.
Keagogile said the few efforts that have been undertaken towards the integration of disability as a vulnerability factor in the fight against HIV/AIDS are unequally dispersed in different parts of the country.
Research has constantly proved that deaf people are victims of exclusion in the management of the health crisis generated by the AIDS pandemic. As indicated by a number of studies, most people assume that deaf people are asexual, or less sexually active, and that they are less exposed to such sexual risks as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.
She said non-governmental organization officials, programme directors and other influential people at the operational level are not designing projects with the thought of positioning deaf people at the centre of their interventions.
“There is very little evidence of the engagement of the National Aids Council (NACA) and international donors in programmes that target deaf people,” she said.
Considerable efforts have been made to reduce the dramatic and disabling effects of HIV/AIDS in the general population in other countries that include Kenya and South Africa, but there have been very few measures to build intervention programmes that minimize the impact of this disease on deaf people.
Keoagile said Botswana needs a study in response to this situation.
“We need to evaluate sexual risk factors and determine HIV prevalence among the young deaf people and deaf women of Botswana as a means of reducing the deficiency of information on behavior change,” she said.