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Disability and AIDS: an emerging concern that cannot be ignored

Disability and AIDS: an emerging concern that cannot be ignored

It’s estimated that about 10% of the world’s population, 650 million people, have a disability.  Even though many believe that persons with disabilities are not sexually active, many engage in behaviors that can place them at risk of HIV infection.

Although the issue of disability and aids was ignored in the past, in the last few years, it has gained prevalence in the discussion of promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. As a result, in commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, celebrated on 3 December, DESA, UNAIDS and the Permanent Mission of the United States to the UN, organized an expert panel discussion to explore the linkages between HIV/AIDS and disability.

Emelia Timpo, Senior Advisor of the UNAIDS New York Office, highlighted that “every risk factor associated with HIV/AIDS is also associated with people with disabilities.” It was explained, for example, that both groups have the risk of engaging in drug or alcohol use, they might have less access to information, and tend to be stigmatized.

It was underscored that as individuals with disabilities do not often engage in sexual behaviors, people believe that there is no need to raise their awareness about HIV/AIDS risks. However, the panelists highlighted that persons with disabilities have the same or even greater exposure to some of the risk factors associated with the disease.

For example, men and women are more vulnerable to violent attacks, and women with disabilities are more likely to be sexually abused. Furthermore, frequently, persons with disabilities have limited or no access to HIV education, information or prevention services.

As a result, it is critical to raise awareness and ensure that people understand that the connection between persons with disabilities and HIV/AIDS is, in fact, very strong. Judy Heumman, Special Advisor for the International Disability Rights of the U.S Department of the State, said: “We need to include civil society at every level and it’s our responsibility to look at what we can do to integrate it into our work.”

However, there is very little data that illustrates the connection between disability and HIV/AIDS. Consequently, advocacy becomes a challenge, as there are insufficient quantitative facts that reveal the urgency to act upon this pressing development concern.

At the event, panelist and participants highlighted that it is of vital importance that governments and the UN start collecting the required data that clearly display the linkage so the public can be effectively persuaded on taking action about the matter.

Paula Donovan, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World, stressed that data collection should be a priority and that we cannot wait until next year’s celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to start making commitments.

The need to take action on this and other critical factors affecting persons with disabilities was also stressed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. In his message marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Mr. Ban urged governments to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to integrate the needs of this group with their pursuit of the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s).

“On this International Day, let us recognize that the battles against poverty, disease and discrimination will not be won without targeted laws, policies and programmes that empower this group, Mr. Ban said.”

The Convention

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century, has been signed by 147 countries since 30 March 2007 and ratified by 96 countries as of 3 December.

The Convention, one of the fastest treaties ever negotiated at the United Nations and one of the fastest to enter into force, has the strong support of Member States, as well as advocacy by the global disability movement, which was instrumental in drafting the treaty.

Official observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The theme of the 2010 United Nations’ International Day of Persons with a Disabilities, celebrated annually on 3 December, was “Keeping the promise: Mainstreaming disability in the Millennium Development Goals towards 2015 and beyond.”

The official observance of the day was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York with an interactive panel discussion on Community-based inclusive development: The role of Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) in the realization of the MDGs for persons with disabilities, a Disability Film Festival, and Workshop on CBR Guidelines.

This year’s commemoration aimed to further raise awareness of the urgency for disability-inclusive development and the need to take concrete action to ensure that persons with disabilities fully participate in all aspects of society and development, including the MDGs.

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