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Providing Hiv/aids Awareness and Training to Blind Persons in Africa

Editor's Note: Penny Hartin is Executive Director of Blindness International and President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union.

We have all heard the news reports about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and the devastating toll the disease is taking in that continent. Recent statistics indicate that 25 million Africans are HIV positive and at least 1.5 million children have been orphaned as a result of the disease. Indeed, while around the world life expectancy has increased during the past two decades as a result of improved health care, in many African countries life expectancies have actually decreased, being less than 40 years in several nations.

While numerous community-based grassroots programs have been developed throughout Africa to inform people about the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, few have been made accessible to blind persons even though blind women are especially vulnerable to the disease. Through a grant provided by the Canadian International Development Agency, Blindness International (the recently created international development arm of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) is hoping to help change that situation.

During the next two years, Blindness International, working in partnership with the African Union of the Blind and local organizations of and for the blind, will help mainstream organizations in six countries make their HIV/AIDS programs accessible to blind persons. In the first year of the project, which begins in October of this year, we will be working with Kenya, Cameroon and Malawi, and in year two with Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana. We will be ensuring the development of accessible materials in both English and French, and will create a model that we hope can then be shared with other countries throughout Africa.

The project will have two important components, both critical to its success. The first component will involve the development of advocacy networks at the local level to raise awareness and advocate for accessible services with community service providers. The second component involves recruiting and training 20 blind or partially sighted persons within each country who will act as trainers, both to train the local organizations on accessibility and to provide counselling and awareness training to blind persons at the grassroots level. We also intend that at least 60 percent of the trainers and the program beneficiaries will be blind women, in order to ensure that they derive maximum benefit from the program, particularly given that women represent a larger proportion of those affected by HIV/AIDS.

We will provide ongoing updates on this innovative and exciting project on our Blindness International website, which is soon to be launched. You will be able to learn more about this and our other programs at: http://www.blindnessinternational.org