By Wezi Tjaronda ONGWEDIVA Although the HIV/AIDS campaign started soon after independence, people with disabilities, especially the visually and hearing impaired, have largely been left out of the campaign. This, according to Tuliki Nekundi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia Rehabilitation Centre, has led to the death of some people with great potential due to a lack of information on how they can protect themselves against the deadly disease. She lamented the fact that disabled people have no access to information which they could use to fight the pandemic that has infected over 230 000 Namibians. Nekundi said a lack of social integration was spreading the disease, which was in turn killing minority groups of which the disabled form part. Disabled people, especially those that are visually and hearing impaired, were not invited to workshops and when they were, they could not access the information. Oshana Region Director of Health and Social Services, Dr Naftal Hamata, said even though the campaign has been ongoing for more than a decade, the disabled are left out as if they are not part of society and don’t need information on sex-related issues. “So far their needs have not been taken into consideration, especially when it comes to HIV/AIDS,” he said yesterday. But this is bound to change for the better after the launch of HIV/AIDS material in Braille on Tuesday. The material is an information booklet of Desert Soul, entitled “HIV and AIDS Action Now”, whose contents describe among others what the disease is, how one can be infected, why it is spreading, how one can know that they have the epidemic, voluntary counselling and testing, anti-retroviral therapy, stigma and discrimination and preventing the sickness among many other topics. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting sponsored the interpretation of the book into Braille to benefit the disabled with information. Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah launched the book at the Ongwediva Trade Fair, which she said would break the chain of bondage that has seen a segment of Namibia’s population not being well informed. No access to information could lead to discrimination in general, resulting in a lack of access to services, including education and employment and most importantly how they could protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. “Access to information is key to anyone’s life and unless we produce Braille in different information materials and train people in sign language, the visually impaired, the deaf and hard of hearing will have no access to required information,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said, adding that these people would be shut out. Necessary life-saving information such as that of HIV/AIDS, and other information such as expiry dates on products such as condoms, should be translated into Braille. The minister also expressed concern over misconceptions that disabled people do not engage in sexual activities, saying such attitudes seclude disabled people. Apart from the government and other organisations not doing much on HIV/AIDS, Nandi-Ndaitwah noted that even the disability movement did not give enough attention to HIV/AIDS related issues. While a part of the problems of communicating to the visually impaired has been solved, it has proved difficult to train interpreters of sign language because it is difficult, said Dr Hamata, who also suggested that ways be found to practise sign language as much as possible. The experience has been that once people complete the course and go back to their homes, they stop using sign language. The health director said counsellors need specific training to protect the status of HIV/AIDS patients. “When the person’s HIV/AIDS status is revealed, a question arises on the confidentiality of the interpreter, which is an issue of professionalism,” he added. Nekundi warned that unless disabled people are incorporated into the campaign, the goals stipulated in Vision 2030 could not be attained. “Without us you can’t achieve anything. We need to work as a team and together implement Vision 2030. And we can do it if we are a healthy nation,” Nekundi said.