Disability and HIV in Jamaica
08 September 2008
To address the inclusion of the persons with disabilities in HIV-related public education the “Education and economic empowerment for persons with disabilities: Responding to HIV” programme is being implemented by the Jamaica Council of Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) in the Ministry of Labour and Social services and is financially and technically supported by UNAIDS Jamaica.
“Individuals with disability are often overlooked in HIV prevention and AIDS outreach efforts,” said Miriam Maluwa, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Jamaica, The Bahamas and Belize. “To ensure their inclusion in HIV-related public education, this innovative information and economic empowerment programme is being implemented as part of the national response to HIV.”
Using a creative approach, the programme directly addresses the disabled community on the subject of HIV, customizing messages and information and delivering it in accessible formats to suit their disabilities such as providing information in Braille for blind and visually impaired individuals; texting HIV prevention messages and ensuring that public health information on television has the necessary sign language for the deaf community.
The programme is coupled with an income generation component to assist people in accessing business skills and small grants to initiate and manage their own business, thus reducing their vulnerability to HIV.
Empowering deaf women and girls
The programme is a scale-up of a very successful island-wide project carried out in 2006 which educated deaf women and girls, and their service providers, about HIV and on the wider issue of gender relations.
This project came about in response to results of a needs assessment survey which showed that deaf women experience gender-based violence at a disproportionate rate, particularly violence of a sexual nature including rape, battery, incest and sexual abuse. These unsolicited sexual encounters place deaf women at significantly greater risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Within the project women were empowered with self-defense and alternative economic skills to strengthen their economic independence.
The above programmes complement efforts of UNICEF and UNFPA Jamaica who are specifically addressing matters of children with disabilities and HIV and sexual reproductive rights of persons with disabilities, respectively.
The disabled community constitutes one of the most vulnerable groups within Jamaica. Statistics are show that of the approximately 200,000 persons living with a disability in the country, less than 1% of this community is in paid employment.
Through a ripple-on effect, the education and economic empowerment for persons with disabilities programme should positively impact the lives of many, preventing HIV through reducing people vulnerabilities by empowering them with knowledge and economically, equipping them with a means of generating their own income.