Persons with disabilities particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS
10 June 2009 -- About 10% of the world’s population have a disability. In this episode, we look at why they are particularly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS.
Transcript of the podcast
Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode, we look at why persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. [MUSIC]
About 10% of the world’s population have a disability. Just like any other person, many engage in behaviours which place them at risk of HIV infection, such as unprotected heterosexual or male-to-male sex and injecting drug use. However, persons with disabilities frequently have limited access to HIV education, information and prevention services. They may be turned away from community HIV education forums because of assumptions that they are not sexually active, or do not engage in other risky behaviour such as injecting drugs. Dr Susan Girois, Director of Technical Resources Division of Handicap International in Lyon, France, tells us more.
Dr Susan Girois: Once someone does have HIV, and now we are talking about access to care and support, many of the issues regarding access are difficult for people with either sensory impairment -- like people with visual impairment or people who are hearing impaired -- people who may have problems with physical mobility and other people who may have mental health conditions or who may have intellectual disability. Access is really key.
Veronica Riemer: Children with disabilities who are outside mainstream education miss vital sexual and reproductive health education. In some communities, low literacy levels amongst those who are disabled means they cannot read available HIV prevention information. Similarly, lack of material in Braille format means people with visual impairments cannot read this information either.
Studies have shown that a large percentage of persons with disabilities will experience sexual assault or abuse during their lifetime, with women and girls, persons with intellectual impairments and those in specialized institutions, schools or hospitals being at particularly high risk. In some cultures, persons with disabilities are raped in the belief that this will “cure” an HIV-positive individual.
Although the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities does not explicitly refer to HIV or AIDS in its definition, states are required to recognize that persons living with HIV who are exposed to stigma and discrimination, fall under the protection of the Convention. Sharon Peake, Policy Adviser for HIV/AIDS in the International Health Division of Health Canada, explains why.
Sharon Peake: People living with HIV and AIDS and persons with disabilities have many shared challenges, and there are common barriers to access, and there are shared experiences between both groups.
Veronica Riemer: There is a critical need to break down the barriers of stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities and those living with HIV/AIDS who work as professionals within the health sector. Dr Alice Wellbourn, former chair of the International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS explains.
Dr Alice Wellbourn: Globally, there are huge numbers of people living with HIV or with other disabilities within the health sector who daren't reveal the disabilities that they have to their colleagues, to their managers for fear of somehow being looked down upon for having somehow failed their profession. And the great tragedy is, in South Africa for instance and other countries, year on year there is a net a reduction in the number of people in the health sector owing to AIDS-related sickness and death.
Veronica Riemer: One part of the response to this problem in South Africa is that the government has recognized that disability organizations have a role to play in providing HIV prevention, care and treatment. Counsellors with disabilities are placed in voluntary testing centres and free HIV testing is encouraged at disability meetings. Sign language interpreters are being trained in key HIV messages and are being assigned to HIV clinics. But experts say, along with care givers, everyone has a role to play in integrating persons with disabilities, as Dr Susan Girois explains.
Dr Susan Girois: If you are a care giver of someone with a disability, if you work as a professional, if you are a person with hearing impairment or visual impairment or other impairments, you also have a role to play, to be sure that anyone else is not stigmatized because they are living with HIV within your own community. We all have a role to play.
Veronica Riemer: That was Dr Susan Girois from Handicap International. If you would like to learn more about this issue, there are links to related information on the transcript page of this podcast episode. Look for the link to the podcast on the home page of our web site, at www.who.int
That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics do drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.