Burundi: HIV policy ignores the disabled

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat May 10 12:25:07 UTC 2008

BURUNDI: HIV policy ignores the disabled

Fabien Hamisi uses sign language to teach the hearing impaired about

BUJUMBURA, 7 May 2008 (PlusNews) - Fabien Hamisi can neither hear nor
speak, but don't call him dumb just because he speaks a language not
understood by everybody. Hamisi is the executive director of Burundi's
National Association for the Deaf, which aims to facilitate
communication for the hearing-impaired by teaching them sign language.
Burundi's HIV/AIDS policy has no special provision for HIV education
for the disabled, so this section of the population remains largely
unaware of even the basic facts about the virus. "On the TV we only
see images, but with no interpreter there is no message," said Hamisi.

Few deaf people in Burundi have access to formal education and the few
private schools for the hearing-impaired do not go beyond primary
education. As a result, not only do they miss out on HIV/AIDS
awareness programmes taught in schools, but many never learn to read,
write or even sign. Most communicate using made-up signs that are only
comprehensible to their immediate family, but the National Association
for the Deaf has recently begun to teach them formal sign language and
is educating them about the dangers of HIV. "It is the only message on
HIV/AIDS people like me can access," said Charles Njejimana, one of
those who has benefited from this training.

The hearing-impaired are not the only disabled group left out of
HIV/AIDS education. "For those with hearing or visual impairments, the
messages are not adapted to their handicap; for others with physical
handicaps, they cannot reach the places where they can get information
such as public meetings, health centres, etc," Pierre Claver Seberege,
chairman of the National Assembly of the Disabled, told IRIN/PlusNews.
At a meeting on HIV/AIDS and the disabled in April in the capital,
Bujumbura, Immaculée Nahayo, the Minister for National Solidarity, who
is also responsible for human rights issues, said Burundi had an
estimated 15,000 HIV-positive disabled people.

Especially vulnerable

Handicap International, the non-governmental organisation that
organised the meeting, supports 15 associations of disabled people in
Burundi, training them as HIV/AIDS peer educators and teaching them
skills such as tailoring and carpentry.

Come Niyongabo, coordinator of programmes at Handicap International,
pointed out that people with disabilities were often wrongly viewed as
sexually inactive. He noted that in Burundian tradition, a child born
with a disability of any kind is seen as a curse - a person to be
hidden from the eyes of the world.

"This marginalisation is why disabled women are unlikely to get
married, or have a tendency to accept any [sexual] proposal from men,"
Niyongabo told the meeting. "You will find many disabled women and
girls pregnant because they consider that getting a child will [give
them] value in the eyes of the community; this exposes them to
multiple sexual partners and therefore to increased risk of HIV."

Women with disabilities are also easy prey for rapists, as many of
them are not in a position to defend themselves from physical attack.
Some Burundians also believe a myth that sex with a handicapped girl
is associated with good luck. "Many traders seek sex with them to get
their businesses prosperous," Niyongabo commented.

Delegates at the meeting called on the government to incorporate the
disabled into the national policy for HIV prevention, treatment and
care, and encourage their participation at all levels of HIV

"All people involved in the sector should design specific messages to
take into account the different forms of disability: specific messages
for those with hearing or visual impairment, or even the mentally
disabled," said Seberege, of the National Assembly of the Disabled.

The disabled were also challenged to be more outspoken about their
needs and to take the lead in issues pertaining to their health.


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