People living with disabilities were often left out of HIV programmes despite the fact that they were disproportionately at risk, the 8th National Aids Conference currently on at the Durban International Convention Centre heard.
Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) activists said that unless this was addressed, South Africa would struggle to reach the 90-90-90 target set by UNAids.
The idea is that by 2020, 90% of people who are HIV infected will have been diagnosed, 90% of people who are diagnosed will be on antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of those who receive antiretrovirals will be virally suppressed.
Rosemary Brown, one of the researchers on the HPTN 071 (PopART) study, a randomised trial evaluating an HIV prevention package in 21 communities in Zambia and South Africa, said the study had shown that people living with disabilities were at higher risk of acquiring HIV due to lack of inclusion in essential educational and prevention programmes.
The study found that “few HIV programmes sufficiently address the needs of people with disabilities” and that getting access to HIV testing and treatment services was often challenging for people with disabilities.
“The scale-up of HIV testing and treatment services for people with disabilities requires decentralisation through community-based services,” she said.
The TAC’s Portia Serote further revealed that children in informal settlements who lived with disabilities and were unable to attend school were also missing out on vaccinations against the human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer. This was because government was only carrying out vaccinations in public schools when girls were in Grade 4.
“They are therefore vulnerable to all kinds of diseases, but they are the ones always left out of HIV programmes,” said Serote.
“If the government continues to exclude the people living with disabilities, it is not likely that the country will reach the 90-90-90 goal,” she said.