National campaigns include a TV programme called Love Games, which focuses on relationships and raising awareness about sexual matters. There are also radio programmes and community-based campaigns. But such high-profile campaigns still manage to miss certain vulnerable sections of the population, including people with disabilities. A notable example is deaf people, who are entirely cut off from radio and TV messages. Therefore it’s common for deaf youngsters in Zambia to be ignorant about HIV/AIDS and how to avoid becoming infected.
In Zambia, as in many other developing countries, there is currently no programming designed specifically for deaf people. In its recent report on children with disabilities, the UN child agency (UNICEF) highlighted this problem through a perspective written by a deaf youth activist. In his article, Krishneer Sen, from Fiji, urged countries to “make media more accessible to deaf children by captioning or interpreting television programmes”. This is one vital way to ensure youngsters with hearing problems are not isolated from key communications.
A recent article in the Guardian shows how one initiative in Zambia is working to overcome this problem and ensure deaf children are included in sex education. As part of the national campaign against HIV/AIDS, nearly 300 Safe Love clubs have been set up across the country for youngsters to discuss sexual issues. To reach hearing-impaired youngsters, Safe Love clubs are now being created specifically for the deaf. The first was formed at a high school in Lusaka, where health workers were extremely concerned to find levels of HIV were already high among deaf students.
Speaking to the Guardian, a director of the outreach programme which is one of the partners of the initiative, explains that many young Zambians have “completely missed out on the conventional messages about safe sex....even at health rallies, [where] people use megaphones to give their messages.”
Two Safe Love clubs are now running for young deaf people. One club member is Amos, who lost his hearing after contracting meningitis as a child. He believes that membership of the club has changed his life. Before joining, he was not fully aware about HIV and its dangers. Now he understands what constitutes risky behaviour and says he has “learnt many lessons” about relationships and most importantly, how to stay safe.