Source: The Zimbabwean

Widow and HIV/AIDS activist Zifa Moyo's husband died in 2007 after a long illness. Moyo has been living with HIV for the past three years and says accessing information about the disease and obtaining support services has proved to be a nightmare for her.

"The traumatic experience started when I first went for a HIV test. I walk with the aid of crutches and there were no special facilities for the disabled so I was

forced to stand in a queue for hours with able-bodied people.

Everyone was staring at me and they made me feel very uncomfortable. Because of the unfriendly and hostile environment, I gave up after a few hours and returned home," said Moyo.

However, after a few days at home, she built up her courage again and decided to go back to the New Start centre.

"This time I went straight to the testing room where I was subjected to a barrage of questions about my disability as well as the possible cause of my HIV status. Since openly revealing my HIV status, I have been stigmatised. It's like most people believe that HIV is reserved for able-bodied people only.

They don't realise that HIV can affect anyone who is sexually active, regardless of their physical condition," said Moyo.

She said she had also been unable to access cervical cancer screening services at government health centres in the city because of her condition.

Abuse of the blind
Lindiwe Sibanda, a visually impaired mother, told this reporter that she had been abused and discriminated against on two occasions at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo.

"I developed a heart problem in 2004 while I was pregnant. When I went to Mpilo Hospital for a medical examination, the doctor examined me with the curtains around the bed open. My sister, who accompanied me, complained to the doctor, but he said that there was no need for privacy since I cannot see," said Sibanda. Sibanda again suffered abuse and discrimination at the same health centre in 2013 after she had a stroke. "I was admitted at the hospital for two weeks. During my stay, nurses would place tablets on my locker and expect me to take the correct dose at the right times despite them all being aware that I am blind and not able to read the instructions on the medication. Due to this mistreatment, I was forced to find an alternate hospital where the rights of people with disabilities are respected," said Sibanda.

Mentally impaired child
Lindiwe Mumpande, the mother of a 14-year-old boy with a mental disability, related that she and her son had experienced abuse and ridicule at Njube Clinic in Bulawayo.

"Last year, I took my sick son to Njube Clinic to seek treatment for him. Medical staff at the reception said that my son did not require any medical attention because he was mentally challenged. I tried in vain to explain to them that he was really sick and needed urgent medical attention, but they refused to listen to me," she said.

The chairperson of the National Disability Board, Chrispen Manyuke, expressed concern over the exclusion of disabled people from HIV/AIDS programmes. Because of this exclusion a large number of disabled people, particularly disabled women, have been infected with HIV.

"National programmes run by various institutions who receive the government AIDS levy have tried to include disabled people in their programmes. The methodology has either been deliberately conscripted not to let the disabled run their own programmes, or construed that disabled people are not capable of running their own HIV programmes. We feel that the AIDS levy should be equitably distributed to all, including the disability sector that forms more than 10% of the population," said Manyuke.

Rights violations
Phillimon Simwaba, director of the Disability HIV and AIDS Trust (DHAT), a regional non-governmental organisation that promotes the rights, health and capacity building of persons with disabilities, said his organisation had rolled out various programmes to enable the disabled to claim their rights and access quality, appropriate information and services on TB, HIV and sexual reproductive health.

"Our strategic goal is to ensure inclusion and participation of People Living with Disabilities (PWDs) in all our health and socio-economic developmental interventions. These include policy and legislation, national sexual reproductive health, TB, HIV and AIDS strategies, programmes, budgets and other emerging global and national issues. We are also building the capacity of persons with disabilities with various livelihoods projects as well as advocating for policy influence, "said Simwaba.

People with disabilities, particularly women, continue to suffer sexual and reproductive health rights violations despite the fact that the government has ratified the United Nations convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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