JIS News

More than 65 million people worldwide are infected with HIV/AIDS, and with the number growing, countries like Jamaica are addressing the issue by teaching citizens how to protect themselves against the disease.
But since prevention techniques often ignore the disabled, particularly deaf women, the Jamaican Government, since July of this year, has implemented a six-month islandwide HIV/AIDS prevention programme for deaf women at a cost of US$100,000, aimed at empowering deaf women with the necessary skills to address their social, cultural and economic vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
The HIV/AIDS prevention programme for deaf women is jointly funded by the Government and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and is being spearheaded by the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD).
Executive Director of the JCPD, Ransford Wright tells JIS News that, in keeping with plans for the initiative, a two-day workshop has been scheduled for September 12 and 13.
The workshop, which will include some six facilitators from the Ministry of Health and Jamaica AIDS Support, will be held between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. for 35 hearing impaired women from the Corporate Area, who have already been selected for the workshop.
Mr. Wright informs JIS News that the JCPD, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, plans to have similar workshops across the island over the life of the project.
According to Miriam Maluwa, UNAIDS Country Co-ordinator with responsibility for Jamaica, the Bahamas and Cuba, the assumption that disabled people are not sexually active and therefore at low risk for HIV/AIDS, is impeding progress in the prevention of HIV/AIDS infections in the Caribbean.
“It seems a contradiction in terms of work on the risk of HIV and AIDS infection within the disabled population. This perception is indeed premised on many myths, one common misperception is that disabled people are not sexually active, and therefore, are not at risk of being infected with HIV,” she says.
Mrs. Maluwa points out that these are all wrong assumptions that have led to exclusion from HIV prevention and care of disabled persons and that in some countries, these myths and misconceptions around HIV and disability have also increased the vulnerability of the disabled people. She cites the example that in some countries, there is a belief that intercourse with a disabled person cleanses HIV and AIDS.
Furthermore, Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Senator Floyd Morris, who spoke at the launch of the programme, points to the social and economic disenfranchisement of disabled persons, noting that they are often most susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases.
“When you look at the statistics relating to training, education and employment, the disabled find themselves at the bottom of the ladder. And with such damning statistics, you can understand that they are susceptible to a lot of things, one of which is AIDS.
People hold the view that once you have a disability, you are supposed to be takers, and not givers. You are not supposed be intimate and you are not supposed to be able to have a family, and so anything goes,” the State Minister says.
Deaf women and girls form a unique group within the community of persons with disabilities. This is because their disability is not immediately obvious, and they look ‘normal’. However, their form of disability means that they are not privy to information flow and mode of communication of the wider society.
A study carried out by the JCPD recently, reveals that hearing impaired women and girls are exposed to high levels of rape, battery, incest and carnal abuse. They are unable to adequately communicate the abuse that they have suffered, and so become vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS.
“We are targeting about 250 women and more, over the next year of this programme. The project will also include skills building programmes. We are planning to have seminars, and we will conduct all these in Kingston, Mandeville, Montego bay, Ocho Rios, and in May Pen,” Senator Morris notes.
The Kingston centre will serve Portmore, St. Andrew, St. Thomas, St. Mary, Portland and St. Catherine; the Mandeville centre will cater to St. Elizabeth and Manchester; the facility in Ocho Rios will serve Trelawny and St. Ann; the Montego Bay centre will serve Westmoreland, St. James and Hanover; while the May Pen facility will cater to Clarendon.
The HIV/AIDS prevention programme will empower deaf women and girls and their guardians, with survival and defense strategies and alternative and affordable economic skills, such as floral arrangements and cookery, which should lead to their independence and in the long term, protect them from sexual abuse and its related violence.
Senator Morris points to the need for public education programmes on HIV/AIDS to be sensitive to the needs of the disabled community and stresses that the move is not to suggest that HIV/AIDS is rampant among the disabled.
He says it is not enough to have a programme like this one. The general public also needs to be sensitized about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the disabled.
“The public education programmes that are being developed at a national level, must incorporate, and must be sensitive to the disabled community, and in particular the deaf community. When the advertisements are being designed on television, they must be fashioned in such a way that they appeal to persons who are deaf. So, sign language, or close captioning, must be incorporated, so that the deaf population can know what is taking place with these advertisements.” Senator Morris says.
The programme is expected to amplify the voices and the productivity of deaf women and in doing so, increases their independence, and reduces their risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV/AIDS.

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