…many bemoan contracting diseases



MASERU – Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) with disabilities say they continue to carry the dual burden of being infected with particular diseases, especially HIV/Aids, while disabled.

Disabled and HIV/Aids Organisation Lesotho (DHAOL) programmes director, Thabo Mothibeli, concurs, adding that for women with disabilities, inclusion cannot be achieved without addressing their sexual and reproductive health rights.

Mothibeli says in particular, girls and young women with disabilities are able to develop their own identities and realise their full potential when their sexual and reproductive health needs and rights are met.

AGYM with disabilities who spoke to Public Eye, say by right, they must boldly and shamelessly get sexual and reproductive health rights information and services, without stigma and discrimination noting that there is an urgent need to focus on AGYW with disabilities, as a group left behind in the HIV response.

They say people with disabilities have been identified as one of the vulnerable groups to HIV due to several challenges posed by their disabilities including external stigma, inaccessible information on sexual health rights and perception that they are not vulnerable to HIV.

These they revealed in a dialogue held by DHAOL for AGYW to discuss challenges that they experience as AGYW with disabilities, in accessing health services. Mpeo Kherehloa of Thaba-Tseka Methalaneng Lesobeng, a member of Lesotho National League of Visually Impaired Persons, said in response to gaps and barriers, prevention and treatment targeting AGYW with disabilities is key.

She said young girls and women who communicate in sign language often face communication barriers as most healthcare staff do not communicate in sign language, therefore, they need to have interpreters every time they visit health facilities.

Even if their situation may need some privacy, Kherehloa said there is no secrecy because the interpreter would have to be there to interpret medical diagnosis to the patient who is deaf, leading to being unable to receive information they need directly from the healthcare provider.

“This deprives us of critical information and quality healthcare as interpreters are not medically trained to explain medical diagnosis,” she explained. As a result, the group has suggested that at least health facilities have a disability unit, where people with disabilities will get a fair service, without barriers. They also said disability must be part of the health professionals’ training for them to understand fully what disability is, how they must engage with people with disabilities, and deliver services.

Apart from that, Kherehloa said for those who are visually impaired, if they want to take medical tests (HIV self-test to be specific) independently and privately, that becomes a problem because self-tests are not in braille, therefore they want tests which are in braille format.

In her experience, Kherehloa said when she takes her medication, that becomes a challenge because she cannot see how many pills she must take, when and if it is before or after meals. “When I take my pills, I have to assume if there are many in a pocket that maybe I have to take them three times a day, but if they are few, they are just taken once,” she said.

In a bid to improve the experiences, young people together with AGYW with disabilities receive at hospitals and clinics, the government of Lesotho developed the minimum standards and implementation guide for adolescent health friendly services, developed for adolescents to be given free basic sexual and reproductive rights.

Ensuring that young people including adolescent girls and young women with disabilities visit clinics, and have access to reliable health care, is a top priority for the Lesotho government and the Joint UN 2gether for Sexual and Representative Health and Rights (SRHR) programme.

The programme aims to improve SRHR of all people, particularly adolescent girls, young people and key populations by promoting an integrated approach to SRHR, HIV and Gender-based Violence.

In 2019 the government of Lesotho, along with UNICEF and other partners, introduced an innovative project which gave young people an opportunity to shape the healthcare services they receive. It entailed young people visiting healthcare facilities and rating the services they receive, using a detailed scorecard. Following the first cycle of Universal Periodic Review Lesotho adopted the National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy of 2011, which focuses on disability as a human rights issue and recognising that persons with disabilities should have equal access to health and other human rights.

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