Leaving No One Behind: Youth with Disabilities Information and Training Workshop
-Karabo Makgato & Elliot Mabasa
With glaring gaps and the lack of sufficient insight on how best youth with disabilities can be supported in all their diversity, South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) hosted the Youth with Disabilities information and training workshop that was held in Johannesburg from 17-18 May 2023, this in an effort to create a platform for adequate and extensive consultative process with the sector to better understand how Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR) Services can be accessible, inclusive and targeted to address the needs of the sector.
The two-day information and training workshop attracted key stakeholders from organizations working with youth with disabilities, CSF Disability Sector, Department of Health, Higher Health, PEPFAR, youth with disabilities representatives and other related stakeholders. The workshop aimed at sharing key HIV/TB Prevention interventions for youth through a disability’s lens, identifying of existing interventions and gaps on HIV and SRHR for youth with disabilities, as well as capacity building of young people with disabilities on HIV prevention and innovations.
People with disabilities make approximately 15% of the population, worldwide compared to people without disability. They are two times more likely to be malnourished and die as children, have a 2.4-fold higher mortality rate, 50 times more likely to have catastrophic health expenditures and exposed to all HIV/STI risk factors such as poverty, lower education access, risky sexual behaviour, etc. Women with disabilities (compared to women without disabilities and men) are 2 times more at risk of HIV infection and 2 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence (IPV). Young people with disabilities can experience barriers when accessing sexual reproductive health and rights services (school/educational, health, police and judicial services). Women with disabilities and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities may also experience discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. Disability type and degree also determine vulnerability. An HSRC study argued that people with disabilities are largely overlooked by HIV and AIDS programmes, yet their risk to HIV infection is often exacerbated by their disability, and disability poses additional challenges when living with HIV.
Delegates attending the workshop brought to the fore varying challenges that people with disabilities faced in accessing health care services at public facilities on a daily basis. According to SANAC Disability Sector there is a gap related to addressing prevention, treatment and management of HIV/TB services for people with disabilities particularly those in the youth category. Highlighted challenges amongst others included, Increased negligence of AYP Living with disabilities, Violation of basic human rights of access to health (HIV and SRHR services), Limited SRHR support for young key populations, Increase vulnerability and susceptibility to HIV and Sexual Violence.
The poor involvement of youth with disabilities in key HIV prevention interventions has had a negative effect in the reduction of HIV and TB infections among these vulnerable populations, and therefore there is need for targeted efforts to support this group as identified by the NSP.
Speaking on day-two of the information and training workshop, the National Chairperson of SANAC CSF Disability Sector, Dr. Jacques Lloyd, said that “it is a victory to have a minimum package of services for people with disabilities included in the NSP 2023-2028 Packages of Care”. Dr Lloyd further stated that NDOH together with ARRC developed three pamphlets containing information relevant to people with disability on the topics of HIV and Disability, Tuberculosis and Disability, and Abuse, Violence and Disability. The pamphlets provide practical information on each topic as well as resources people with disability can access for further information and assistance.
Day 1 of the workshop focused on information sharing on key HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) interventions, identified gaps and mitigation strategies and identify best practice. While Day 2 focused on breakaway activities to allow for participants to reflect on the information shared, identify gaps and challenges, as well as provide recommendations.