HIV positive Women with disabilities decry stigma
As the women across the global marked the International Women’s Day last week, it emerged that those in Uganda especially ones with physical disabilities have challenges in accessing HIV/AIDS treatment and other services. And this undermines the enjoyment of their Right to health care.
In one of their activities to mark this important day for the Women Movement, a group of women dubbed as the Pan African Positive Women Coalition highlighted that their colleagues with disabilities do not easily access the medical attention as they are supposed to, because of stigma.
This revelation is unfortunate because international treaties like the UN convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women recognize that women should not be sidelined in any way when it comes to issues of Health, education and other opportunities.
Whereas the global drive is to ensure universal access to treatment, women with Disabilities living HIV/AIDS are still disadvantaged when it comes to accessing medication and this is mainly attributed to the stigmatization.
Members of the Pan African Positive Women Coalition reported that Women with Physical Disabilities are stigmatized by their own family members, health workers and the general Public when they try to seek HIV/AIDS services.
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A Representative of Women with disabilities at the Pan African Positive Women Coalition, Betty Kwagala says that many of the HIV/AIDS programs do not cater for women with disabilities yet they are also prone to catching the virus. While others are already living with the deadly virus, she adds.
Kwagala who also works with The AIDS Support Organization Uganda (TASO) says in addition to the fact that Women with disabilities are sexually active, they are also vulnerable to rape, domestic violence and other factors that fuel the HIV infection.
Because of the special needs for the Women with disabilities, many deaf women or those with visual impairment across the African continent cannot access treatment, information materials and other HIV/AIDS services like voluntary Counseling and Testing. This is because the HIV programs are designed without putting into consideration of the disadvantaged categories.
“For example, if your services are in the third floor of a building, and you do not have an access ramp and you do not have a lift (elevator) how do you expect me to go there?” Kwagala asked.
There is a problem of language barrier, suppose I am deaf and I want to access your services and you cannot communicate in sign language how are you going to support me? She added
“So Lawmakers my request is let sign language be a national language of sorts, at least every hospital should have staff trained in sign language to support ladies who are deaf”. Kwagala
Now the most unfortunate situation is when a Woman with disability can access the service but she is limited by the attitude of the service provider. Kwagala says that some health workers ask unfair questions to these women regarding their sexuality that could have led to the HIV infection.
Kwagala who is also disabled says that there is increasing negative attitude by service providers, they look at women with disabilities as if they do not indulge in sex.
“They ask so many questions, are you also sexually active? And if you are pregnant it gets worse, you are asked who impregnated you? So we end up being isolated. We do not access Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission services because we fear being stigmatized more by service providers in Hospitals ”-Kwagala noted
The chairperson of the Coalition Glaris Abiero Ojwang says today many women are vulnerable to Gender based Violence and other challenges that fuel the epidemic which calls for specific interventions by respective African governments.
Ojwang said that although the African Union (AU) declared that governments were going to increase up to 50% of their annual budgets that has not been implemented. She adds that it’s time that there is a strong African women’s voice that follows up on these commitments.
“We are looking at actively engaging the issue of treatment because we are alive ourselves about 15 to 20 something years because of treatment, we realize that the issue of access to treatment is still a challenge particularly to the women with disability and women in rural areas”-Ojwang said.