Pri­mary coun­sel­lors trained in sign lan­guage

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - SOCIETY - Tadiwa Ny­atanga-Pfupa NAC Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fi­cer

IN ITS quest to end AIDS by 2030 with­out leav­ing any­one be­hind, the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil (NAC) and the Min­istry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) held the first ever Sign Lan­guage and Spe­cial Needs train­ing pro­gramme for pri­mary coun­sel­lors in HIV and Aids.

This fol­lows the re­al­i­sa­tion that there is an in­for­ma­tion gap in in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion to and amongst those with hear­ing im­pair­ments.

The work­shop, held in Bin­dura, saw 30 par­tic­i­pants from Mashona­land Cen­tral, Mashona­land West, Mashona­land East, Harare, Man­i­ca­land and Masvingo prov­inces be­ing trained in: cat­e­gories of deaf­ness, defin­ing terms in sign lan­guage, health words, ap­pro­pri­ate and in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ac­tion with clients who can­not hear as well as sign lan­guage sen­tence struc­ture and sim­ple ges­tures used by those with hear­ing im­pair­ments, among other top­ics.

At the pro­gramme, MoHCC’s Na­tional HIV and Test­ing Ser­vices Train­ing Of­fi­cer, Mrs Beatrice Dupwa, said coun­selors find it dif­fi­cult to serve clients who can­not hear as they can­not un­der­stand each other.

“You find that the coun­selor does not un­der­stand what the per­son with hear­ing and speech chal­lenges is try­ing to put across and the coun­selor can­not give out any in­for­ma­tion to that client, re­sult­ing in those with hear­ing im­pair­ments go­ing with­out crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion that could save their lives,” she said.

NAC’s Care, Treat­ment and Sup­port Co-or­di­na­tor, Mrs Caroline Sirewu con­curred with Mrs Dupwa.

“Our ma­jor aim is that we elim­i­nate the oc­cur­rence of new HIV in­fec­tions. We can­not achieve this if peo­ple with hear­ing and speech prob­lems con­tinue to lag be­hind in terms of HIV and Aids in­for­ma­tion.

“We need to give them in­for­ma­tion on pre­ven­tion of HIV and if they are HIV pos­i­tive we equip them with in­for­ma­tion on how to take their medicines and what foods to take among other things,” said Mrs Sirewu.

She added that it will be most ideal to train more pri­mary coun­selors but at the mo­ment the fund­ing is not ad­e­quate.

Some of the pri­mary coun­selors that were trained in sign lan­guage

Vi­su­als used to teach ways of HIV Trans­mis­sion to young peo­ple with hear­ing im­pair­ments

One of the par­tic­i­pants, Mrs Melody Manwa from Mor­gen­ster Mis­sion in Masvingo nar­rated the dif­fi­cul­ties they en­counter as coun­selors when they are ap­proached by clients who can­not hear and or talk.

She spoke of one case where the client was sui­ci­dal af­ter re­ceiv­ing his HIV re­sults and there was nobody who could com­mu­ni­cate with him to give him hope.

The in­sti­tu­tion ended up look­ing for a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity who lived in a home where there was some­one with a hear­ing im­pair­ment to as­sist with the sign lan­guage.

“This is a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion that we found our­selves tak­ing be­cause once we in­volve some­one else who is not a coun­selor, con­fi­den­tial­ity is com­pro­mised,” Mrs Manwa said.

She hailed NAC and the MoHCC for the ini­tia­tive, which she be­lieves will ben­e­fit both coun­selors and clients.

A trainer from Sun­rise Sign Lan­guage Academy, who can nei­ther hear nor speak, Chiedza Hukuimwe, said that she is happy to be train­ing coun­selors in sign lan­guage and will be happy to have other in­sti­tu­tions such as banks train­ing sign lan­guage to tell­ers.

“As young peo­ple we learnt that when you are in a re­la­tion­ship and are about to get mar­ried, you should go for coun­sel­ing and test­ing but once we get there, the coun­selors can­not ad­dress us.

“We also visit banks, we also go to church but we do not get the help we need be­cause of com­mu­ni­ca­tion chal­lenges. I hope that we will ac­tu­ally have peo­ple like me train­ing as pri­mary coun­selors too,” said Chiedza.

NAC has been work­ing with sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions that as­sist peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties, in the re­sponse to HIV.

Ms Medelina Dube, the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Di­rec­tor for NAC, em­pha­sised the need for in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion amongst those liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties.

“We are look­ing at a group that is at greater risk of HIV be­cause they are hu­man, they fall in love and like ev­ery­one else, they end up en­gag­ing in sex, amongst them­selves and with peo­ple with­out dis­abil­i­ties.

“This is a group that faces dou­ble stigma if they con­tract HIV: the stigma of be­ing dis­abled and the stigma of be­ing HIV pos­i­tive hence they need to be able to ex­press them­selves to any­one who they feel can help them and this per­son can be some­one who is not deaf. We, there­fore, need to train as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble in sign lan­guage,” she said.

Ms Dube added that peo­ple with hear­ing chal­lenges also un­der­stand things dif­fer­ently from the rest of the pop­u­la­tion hence the need for stan­dard­ised sign lan­guage and in­ten­sive train­ing of coun­selors and all health per­son­nel in sign lan­guage.

A case that indi­cates that deaf peo­ple un­der­stand is­sues dif­fer­ently is that of Du­miso Kurewa of Mutare who at­tends HIV and Aids lessons at Nzeve Deaf Chil­dren’s Cen­tre.

He said that due to the var­i­ous signs used by dif­fer­ent peo­ple to com­mu­ni­cate, the is­sue of HIV treat­ment was so con­fus­ing that he ended up think­ing that if the HIV virus is sup­pressed with Anti-Retro­vi­ral Treat­ment (ART), one can get the virus re­moved from their feet.

He also used to think that if one is HIV pos­i­tive and stops tak­ing drugs, the virus would go up to their head and af­fect the brains.

The ma­jor chal­lenge re­gard­ing sign lan­guage is that it is so dy­namic and di­verse in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties that deaf peo­ple end up get­ting the wrong in­for­ma­tion from dif­fer­ent in­ter­preters in dif­fer­ent places.

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