THE National AIDS Council (NAC) last week donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to the deaf community in Zimbabwe.
The donation also included lip reading masks that enable people with hearing impairments to communicate effectively.
A total of 5000 lip reading face masks received by the Sunrise Academy of Sign Language on behalf of the deaf community are user-friendly and a necessity in as far as sign language is concerned.
Speaking at the handover ceremony in Harare, NAC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Bernard Madzima said the donation would go a long way in facilitating and easing communication about both HIV and COVID-19 including the ongoing vaccination.
“Although the country has covered great strides in responding to both HIV and COVID-19 targeting the general population, there are some most at-risk population groups that, due to their nature are often left out and therefore likely to be most affected,” he said.
He said, Zimbabwe has an estimated 700 000 people who are classified as deaf.
“These people are not easily served by the general messaging and programmes that we churn out to promote prevention and treatment. To walk the talk of leaving no-one behind and embrace such groups in the response to both HIV and COVID-19, NAC has procured special masks for the deaf community,” he said.
Dr Madzima added that they have adopted a two-pronged approach to HIV and COVID-19.
“In addition to providing HIV and COVID-19 prevention services to the deaf and other special needs population sub groups, we have deliberately enhanced HIV services targeting sex workers, adolescent girls and young women, prison inmates, youths, artisanal miners and other groups to ensure that no one is left behind.
“We are excited that since the emergence of COVID-19, the National AIDS Council has been working closely with the Sunrise Sign Language Academy, who have graciously provided sign language back-up to all our audio-visual productions promoting use of HIV prevention services, social distancing, washing of hands and wearing of masks among other practices to effectively tame the twin pandemic of HIV and COVID-19,” he said.
The work between Sunrise Academy of Sign Language and NAC is part of the ongoing partnership the two organisations have had over the years together with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, through which NAC has supported the training of primary care counsellors in sign language and special needs interpretation for HIV communication and programming.
“We are excited that the primary care counsellors have done a tremendous job within our communities, promoting uptake of HIV services and have assisted in dispensing COVID-19 messages. We believe that they will also go a long way in facilitating and easing communication about both HIV and COVID-19 including the ongoing vaccination. Dealing with special groups requires careful communication and demystification of myths that may counter the effectiveness of the vaccination campaigns and uptake of services.”
Professor Lincoln Hlatshwayo who received the donation on behalf of the deaf community in Zimbabwe expressed gratitude to NAC, saying it would go a long way in enabling communication at the same time protecting them from COVID-19 infection.
“It is unfortunate that we have a problem with statistics in Zimbabwe but according to a study that was done by UNICEF in 2013 and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, at least 7 percent of the population is living with disabilities. In 2017, ZIMSATS released statistics which indicate that 9.3 percent of the national population is living with disabilities and of these 12-13 percent are deaf. We see that these are very huge numbers and by leaving them behind, the country will not progress,” he said.
He said, without these face masks which allow lip and facial expression reading, communication would be difficult amongst the deaf community.