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June 2, 2006

AIDS threatens deaf

From: New Vision, Uganda - Jun 2, 2006

By Fred Ouma

THE deaf people will be wiped out if no action is taken to increase their access to information about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) director, Alex Ndeezi, said 90% of the deaf population in the country cannot write or read and some people were taking advantage of their ignorance to sexually abuse them.

“Our community faces extinction as the trend of HIV infection is rising due to lack of information on its prevention, care, treatment and even available services. The situation is worsened when some people in society think deaf people are safe from HIV/AIDS and flock to them to have unprotected sex,” he said.

Ndeezi, who is also the central region MP for the disabled, was on Friday addressing a workshop on involving deaf people in development programmes at Hotel Equatoria, Kampala.

The meeting was organised by UNAD, a local NGO advocating for promotion of human rights and equality for the deaf.

There are about 500,000 people with varying hearing loss in Uganda. About 300,000 of them need sign language to communicate.

Ndeezi said while Uganda is applauded for its successful fight against the AIDS scourge, the deaf community has been left out.

“We’re not part of the famous comprehensive HIV/AIDS package that has reduced HIV prevalence to about 6% from 15% in 1990s.

We feel ignored and it’s impossible to sustain the current trend or improve on it if the disabled, particularly, the deaf, are not brought into the development mainstream,” Ndeezi said.

Joseph Mbulamwana, UNAD information officer, said the information about HIV/AIDS is mostly disseminated through radios and the press, which are not accessible to the deaf.

Participants noted that although the sign language was recognised in the Constitution, it was not included in most national development programmes.

They also expressed concern that the sign language translations during the news bulletin on the national television (UBC) has been scrapped.

Ndeezi, who lost hearing at the age of 15, said deafness should be a concern for everybody and concerted effort was needed to put it high on the development agenda.

Deaf participants asked the media and public to stop referring to them as social misfits. They said nicknames like kasiru (stupid) were discriminatory and made and them feel stigmatised.

“A simple survey of families with deaf children will show that all children have proper names, except deaf ones who are referred to as spoilt. It is a big challenge that this vice begins at family level, with some parents referring to their own deaf children as hopeless,” a participant said.

Mbulamwana said the deaf were often beaten, chained, denied food, sexually abused and abandoned in urban centres.

© The New Vision 2000-2006.