THABO MOLELEKWA writes: People living with disabilities are often left out of HIV programs despite the fact that they are disproportionately at risk. Treatment Action Campaign activists say that, unless this is addressed, South Africa will struggle to reach the 90-90-90 target set by UNAids.
The idea is that by 2020, 90% of people who are HIV infected will be diagnosed; 90% of people who are diagnosed will be on antiretroviral treatment and 90% of those who receive antiretrovirals will be virally suppressed.
Rosemary Brown is one of the researchers on the HPTN 071 (PopART) study, a randomized trial evaluating an HIV prevention package in 21 communities in Zambia and South Africa.
Brown told the SA Aids conference that the study had shown that people living with disabilities were at higher risk of acquiring HIV. The reason for this was that “few HIV programs sufficiently address the needs of people with disabilities.”
Getting access to HIV testing and treatment services was often challenging for people with disabilities. “Scale up of HIV testing and treatment services for people with disabilities requires decentralisation through community based services,” she said.
TAC’s Portia Serote revealed that children in informal settlements who lived with disabilities and were unable to attend school were also missing out on vaccination against the human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer. This was because government was only carrying out vaccinations in school when girls were in Grade 4.
“Those children are at risk of being raped. They are therefore vulnerable to all kinds of diseases but they are always left out of HIV programs.” said Serote.
“If the government continues to exclude the people living with disabilities, it is not likely that the country will reach the 90-90-90 goal,” she said.