“The fact that the mass mobilization campaign on condom use did not focus on blind and deaf persons would not only jeopardize efforts to combat HIV/AIDS but behaviour change among the general public,” Jacques Sindayigaya, coordinator of the HIV programme for the NGO, Handicap International. “Many disabled people are sexually active and this situation does not exclude them from having unprotected sex.”
The three-month campaign, which mainly used radio and television spots as well as billboards and more than 200,000 posters to spread the word, ended in February, and according to government sources, was successful in raising awareness. However, Sindayigaya noted that as long as some sections of the population were left out of such campaigns, behaviour change would be limited.
Cyriaque Kanimba, a 28-year-old blind artisan based in the capital, Kigali, said he missed out on the messages.
“I’ve been living with my blindness since birth; I used to listen to the radio programmes, but I also need someone to describe what condoms look like, how to use them,” he said.
With the National AIDS Control Council (CNLS) and Handicap International, Rwanda’s Umbrella of Persons with Disabilities in the Fight against HIV/AIDS (UPHLS) has been able to initiate some HIV sensitization activities specifically designed for people with disabilities, including training peer educators who are able to communicate in sign language.
However, according to the UPHLS, many challenges remain in addressing HIV among Rwanda’s disabled population, including high illiteracy, no harmonized sign language and little knowledge of Braille, fear of double stigma as a result of being both HIV-positive and disabled, health workers who are unable to communicate effectively with sight- or hearing-impaired patients and lack of national data on HIV/AIDS and disability.
This feature is used with permission from IRIN/PlusNews – www.plusnews.org