Meeting the Needs of People with Disabilities and HIV
The International AIDS Conference was held last week in Vienna. Among the topics discussed was the intersection of disability and HIV. Specifically, a session led by Health Canada and Global Partnership for Disability and Development investigated the integration of disability issues in HIV support programs. Since organizations that focus on HIV do not frequently cater to the needs of people with disabilities, and organizations that focus on disability do not frequently cater to the needs of people living with HIV, people with disabilities who are also HIV-positive lack a strong community of support. People with disabilities comprise approximately 10% of the world’s population — a staggering number of people to lack adequate accessibility to HIV prevention, testing and treatment resources.
From Womens eNews:
People with disabilities have HIV infection rates up to three times higher than people without disabilities because of their risk of physical abuse, isolation, general poverty and lack of access to services and information, found a study by the World Bank and Yale University in 2004.
Yet few HIV programs are designed to serve people with disabilities and few disability programs incorporate HIV services.
Dr. Paul De Lay (pictured above) was a keynote speaker at the International AIDS Conference event, and he discussed the recent policy brief on HIV and disability developed by the World Health Organization and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The policy brief provides information for governments, social organizations and the United Nations about the challenges facing the integration of HIV and disability services, as well as ways to overcome those challenges. Recommendations include:
- Incorporate the human rights and needs of persons with disabilities into national HIV strategic plans and policies.
- Develop appropriate programs and mechanisms to prevent sexual assault or abuse of persons with disabilities focusing on those settings which place persons with disabilities at greater risk, e.g. specialized institutions, schools or hospitals.
- Involve persons with disabilities in the planning, implementation and evaluation of HIV programs.
- Advocate for persons with disabilities to have full sexual and reproductive rights, and freedom from physical and sexual abuse.
- Ensure campaigns to combat stigma and discrimination of persons who are HIV-positive are accessible to persons with disabilities.
It is important to note that progress is being made internationally to increase accessibility of HIV services. Since 2003, several deaf-friendly voluntary counseling and testing sites have opened in Kenya. More recently, TASO Uganda partnered with the National Union of Persons with Disabilities to train people with disabilities as HIV counselors. Still, resources and communities geared toward people with disabilities and HIV are rare, and though the WHO’s policy brief contains excellent suggestions for fixing this discrepancy, they are just that — suggestions. Real change will only come if and when those suggestions are rigorously implemented by government and service organizations. Until then, we can only hope that the needs of this particular population of people will be addressed with care and in a timely manner, so that nobody is forced to live without sufficient health care and community resources.