[Svrilist] Sexual abuse, poverty puts disabled at high HIV risk

svrilist at mrc.ac.za svrilist at mrc.ac.za
Fri May 19 08:13:11 SAST 2006

TANZANIA: Sexual abuse, poverty puts disabled at high HIV risk

DAR ES SALAAM, 18 May (PLUSNEWS) - AIDS activists in Tanzania are becoming
increasingly concerned about rising HIV/AIDS among mentally and physically
disabled people, a group generally perceived to be at lower risk of
contracting the virus.

"Infections among disabled women have shot up astonishingly in recent
months and we attribute this to their physical inability to ward off
sexual attackers," said Dr Semkuya, who heads the antenatal section of the
state-run Mwananyamala Hospital in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

"Some disabled women are lured into unprotected sex by partners who
presume them to be in the low-risk group. Mentally sick women are raped,
and we only discover this when they are pregnant and brought to antenatal
clinics by the relations," he added.

Semkuya said between two and four disabled pregnant women were found to be
HIV-positive every month at the clinic, but noted that although many were
raped, extreme poverty forced others to have sex as a means of economic

A senior official of the Tanzania Association of the Disabled, Philemon
Rujwahula, told delegates from Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda at a recent
international conference in Dar es Salaam that the perception that people
with disabilities were "safe" was encouraging unprotected sex with people
who had physical or mental health problems.

He said Tanzania's national HIV/AIDS policy excluded people with
disabilities, reinforcing the perception that they were social misfits. He
called for new approaches to protect the disabled.

"What we have diagnosed is just the tip of the iceberg. Most handicapped
people who are sexually abused never make it to the hospital because they
already are stigmatised and handicapped by their very nature of being
disabled, and when women conceive and contract HIV/AIDS, their social
status becomes worse," Semkuya said.

Mpendwa Chihimba, chairperson of Women Fighting AIDS in Tanzania, a local
nongovernmental organisation, acknowledged the magnitude of the problem.

"There used to be few and isolated cases in the past, but the frequency
with which it is happening is alarming, and complicates the strategies the
country has put in place to combat HIV/AIDS," she said. "It is
traumatising to see a mentally sick woman pregnant - it is heartbreaking
to hear that an expectant woman has also been diagnosed HIV-positive."

Chihimba said the problem called for a new policy to address the special
needs of disabled people living with the HI virus.

"This is a challenge to the government and society: to address the
physiological and health needs of the disabled, or else their right to
life will be perpetually under threat as result of sexual exploitation and
abuse," she said.


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