by Theresa Smith

Out of sight, out of mind

HIV/Aids: sensory guidance

People with hearing and speech impediments need help to learn more about HIV and Aids awareness.
Educate the sensory impaired

Most sensory impaired (speech or hearing) people in South Africa, more so individuals living in rural areas of the country, lack basic knowledge of HIV/Aids transmission and prevention, have never visited a voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) centre, and do not have access to treatment and care programmes.  

One glaring reason for this blatant marginalisation is that service providers, nurses, doctors, counselors and social workers lack the expertise to communicate information in braille or sign language.

The general consensus is that regular information about HIV/Aids transmission and prevention should be publicized on TV combining speech and sign language and spreading the message on radio to keep blind persons informed.

However, sensory impaired people living in primitive conditions in remote rural settlements may not have access to television or radio, or the option of visiting a nearby health clinic or hospital.

Yet it is imperative that sensory impaired citizens are not overlooked; it is important that they are made aware of the health risks associated with HIV/Aids, how the disease is spread and its prevention, and where to go for quality testing and treatment.

Albeit, while some have access to information at the health clinic or hospital they frequent, mainstream HIV/Aids intervention programs unfortunately—due to a lack of resources and capacity – overlook a large section of sensory impaired persons. 

Sanda increases its services

According to Mr. Mxolisi Mvimbi, Chairperson of The South African National Deaf Association (Sanda), the association is intent on expanding its services to all provinces and to continue running the organisation’s main project, promoting HIV/AIDS awareness to hearing impaired persons.

“We continue to encourage people who are hearing impaired, as well as hearing-proficient members of society, to recognize sign language as an indispensable skill,” says Mvimbi.

SANDA is one of the main national organisations that administer a series of projects to assist hearing impaired citizens to contribute to normal society, such as their employment placement programme.

One of Sanda’s key projects is promoting HIV/Aids awareness, which is run in partnership with municipalities and funded in part by donations from health departments.

“Face-to-face instruction using sign language is effective in communicating with hearing impaired persons; Sanda is in the process of increasing its services to include counseling, referral and other psycho-social services to meet the need to serve rural communities,” says Mvimbi.  

Identify lifestyle habits 

Any HIV/Aids Awareness campaign should first identify with the lifestyle of persons who are sensory impaired in order to communicate effectively.

For example, the visually impaired tend to have a strong interest in gathering information and spend a lot of time listening to news while the hearing impaired have a propensity to be more physically focused and like to spend their time with household chores, hobbies, reading and watching television.

However, many sensory impaired persons, especially those from disadvantaged households, are illiterate which means they can’t read standard printed material such as pamphlets or Braille to learn about HIV/Aids transmission and protection.

Condom use for example relies on explanation while the message can be communicated verbally to sight impaired persons.

The explanation when aimed at hearing impaired persons would need to be in the form of a set of pictures that explain the message visually.  

Unique skills to educate illiterate citizens

Significant programs that warrant serious deliberation include coaching volunteers and recruits in skills to convey basic knowledge of HIV/Aids transmission and prevention to sensory impaired persons, including citizens residing in rural areas, many of whom are illiterate.

Donations must be sought to develop an effective computer system to collate data to monitor the sustained wellbeing of these persons, to supply mobile phones and laptop computers to volunteers and recruits, to produce a booklet targeting hearing impaired persons, comprising sequential images that ‘tell the story’ about HIV/Aids transmission and prevention, for services offered by VCT centers, as well as treatment and care programmes.

Generally sight impaired persons from disadvantaged backgrounds are not well educated; many are malnourished and have inadequate access to healthcare, hence they are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV/Aids.

Consequently, measures to diminish the impact of HIV/Aids through education, information, testing and treatment are not adequately tailored to suit their needs.

Other barriers include lack of HIV resource materials in accessible formats, visual teaching methodologies, and counselors and social workers who lack the necessary skills to instruct sensory impaired and disabled persons about HIV/Aids transmission and prevention. 

Recruit and train local volunteers

The answer may lie in recruiting volunteer citizens living in rural districts to be trained in promoting HIV/Aids awareness with specific focus on how to convey relevant information to sensory impaired and disabled persons, within their community.

While the basic information on HIV/Aids transmission and prevention remains constant, the challenge lies in bringing voluntary counseling and testing, as well as treatment and care programs to rural communities.

A possible remedy is to establish of fleet of mobile HIV/Aids clinics, manned by a trained nurse and social worker, to schedule regular visits to remote rural settlements.

A typical purpose-built mobile unit would resemble a microbus that has been converted to accommodate a dispensary and cubicles for counseling and testing. 

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