Thursday, August 07, 2008

"The fact is that people with disabilities are dying silently from AIDS" because they are being excluded from HIV/AIDS programs and initiatives

"Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection"

This report from the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City:

People with disabilities are at a greatly heightened risk of HIV infection, but they are excluded from HIV/AIDS data collection and research - and largely ignored by providers of HIV prevention, treatment and care. This is a gross violation of human rights said AIDS-Free World and Disabled Peoples' International at a press conference August 4 at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The organizations are calling for the immediate inclusion of people with disabilities in national and global AIDS surveys and in all AIDS research, data collection and programming.

"We have no idea exactly how many people with disabilities are HIV positive, how many are educated about the risks of HIV/AIDS or how many are able to access treatment," said Rachel Kachaje, Deputy Chairperson of Disabled Peoples' International. "This lack of data highlights the neglect of people with disabilities, and makes it extremely difficult to obtain funding, or to strategically design policies and programming to reach this population. The fact is that people with disabilities are dying silently of AIDS."

One in ten people - 650 million individuals worldwide - have a disability that affects their daily lives. Four-fifths live in developing countries, mostly in rural areas. They are among the most stigmatized, poorest and least educated of the world's citizens. Anecdotal evidence suggests a risk of HIV infection twice as high as that faced by the non-disabled population, and most of the risk factors for HIV are increased for people with disabilities. Incorporating people with disabilities into all data and research on HIV/AIDS will reduce the vulnerability of a large, but often invisible, segment of society.

"If people with disabilities are left out of AIDS research, policies and programming, then we are relegating 10 per cent of the world's population to the far margins of the AIDS response," said Professor Nora Groce, Chairperson of the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre at University College in London.

Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection since they are often wrongly assumed to be sexually inactive. Because it is also frequently presupposed that girls with disabilities will not marry, many families and communities fail to give them information on sexuality, leaving them especially vulnerable to HIV. Women with disabilities, the vast majority of whom have been denied educational opportunities, have exceptionally low levels of literacy - around 1% - and are up to three times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and rape.

"Disability, like HIV/AIDS, disproportionately harms women and is intricately intertwined with poverty and social and economic marginalization," said Myroslava Tataryn, advisor on Disability and AIDS for AIDS-Free World. "Women with pre-existing disabilities are often already dependent on caregivers, whether physically, economically or both. Contracting HIV only worsens their situation. Some may be punished for having the ‘nerve' to be sexually active, and may lose what little social support they have. This additional layer of stigma further exacerbates their poverty and marginalization."

Representatives from AIDS-Free World and Disabled Peoples' International called on the United Nations, governments, and delegates attending the XVII International AIDS Conference to end a decades' long pattern of neglect and discrimination that has rendered people with disabilities ‘invisible' at all levels of the response to the pandemic.