AIDS epidemic and disability

Handicap International aims to continue its 20-year effort to promote equal access to and the full involvement of people with disabilities in the global response to HIV/AIDS.

World AIDS Day (December 1) is an opportunity to highlight the fact that HIV/AIDS is also a disabling disease that causes impairments and limits the activities and social participation of people with the disease. This disability affects people who have contracted the virus but also their families and communities.

The United Nations general assembly stated in June 2011, that “despite substantial progress over the three decades since AIDS was first reported, the HIV epidemic remains an unprecedented human catastrophe inflicting immense suffering on countries, communities and families throughout the world.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 25 million people have died from AIDS in the last three decades.

“People with disabilities, who represent more than one billion people (around 15% of the global population according to the WHO) are no less affected than others by the HIV epidemic,” stresses Muriel Mac-Seing, Handicap International's HIV/AIDS specialist. “Contrary to popular belief, people with disabilities are sexually active and run an equal or even greater risk of being infected with HIV as people without disabilities. The only difference, at the current time, is unfortunately the level of access to health services, whether in terms of information, prevention or the treatment of the disease.”

The organization currently runs AIDS relief programs in 11 countries – eight in Africa and three in South East Asia. A cornerstone of its activities worldwide, these programs take into account the inextricable link between the consequences of this disease and development challenges.

Handicap International supports people who have limited access to government initiatives or who are not taken into account in national AIDS/HIV control campaigns, and particularly people with disabilities or ethnic minorities in Vietnam and Laos, where the organization helps reduce the impact of HIV by ensuring HIV services are appropriate and accessible to everyone.

Our task consists of raising the awareness of stakeholders working in the fields of education, microfinance, the social sector and other development sectors. It also involves improving the social and economic inclusion of people living with HIV, and guaranteeing equal and full access to the global response to HIV for people with disabilities.

Handicap International's fight against HIV began in Burundi in 1992, when it began supporting local initiatives to more effectively combat the emerging epidemic. In 1996, the organization intervened in Kenya at the request of its local partners.

Until now, in East Africa, Handicap International has made a major effort to develop information, education and communication on this issue, promote HIV prevention in schools, provide anonymous and voluntary screening services for young people, along with primary health services and HIV screening in district health facilities, training in prescribing antiretroviral drugs, and support for groups of people living with HIV/AIDS, home care networks, and community-based care for AIDS/HIV orphans.