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June 3, 2006

Uganda's deaf missing out on key AIDS education

From: TODAYonline, Singapore - Jun 3, 2006

Uganda's deaf face extinction at the hands of HIV/AIDS because the country's health authorities have ignored them in their national strategy to wipe out the killer disease, activists said.

About 90 percent of Uganda's estimated 500,000 hearing impaired men, women and children are illiterate and unable to properly communicate, leaving them ignorant of anti-HIV/AIDS messages and vulnerable to sexual abuse, they said.

"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," said Alex Ndezi, the only deaf member of Uganda's parliament.

Ndezi and other activists said authorities must take urgent steps to include the deaf in the national campaign, which is credited with lowering Uganda's HIV prevalence from more than 15 percent in the 1990s to about six percent now.

There are no official statistics to show that the HIV/AIDS rates among Uganda's deaf are higher than for its hearing population but anecdotal evidence compiled from members of the deaf community suggests it is, they said.

"The problem is how the message is passed on," said James Mwandha, a deaf former legislator who has joined Ndezi's cause. "It's either written and many of our people are not educated or it's on the radio and (we) can't hear them."

"We feel ignored," said Ndezi, who also heads the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD).

"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," he said. — AFP

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