The relationship between HIV/AIDS and disability is a cause for concern as persons with disabilities are often at higher risk of exposure to HIV. Additionally, there is a growing understanding that persons living with HIV or AIDS are also at risk of becoming disabled on a permanent or episodic basis as a result of their condition.
Like any other person, persons with disabilities require information on HIV/AIDS and access to programmes, services, and resources. In most countries, the situation of persons with disabilities is further compounded by societal barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society, including access to education. Despite the growing relationship between HIV/AIDS and disability, persons with disabilities have not received sufficient attention within national responses to HIV and AIDS. Furthermore, existing HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes generally fail to meet their specific needs. Persons with disabilities are often excluded from HIV education, prevention and support services because of assumptions that they are not sexually active or do not engage in other risk behaviours such as drug use.
Sexual and reproductive health service providers may lack knowledge about disability issues, or have misinformed or stigmatizing attitudes towards person with disabilities. Services offered at clinics, hospitals and in other locations may be physically inaccessible, lack sign language facilities or fail to provide information in alternative formats such as Braille, audio or plain language. In places where there is limited access to medication, persons with disabilities may be considered a low priority for treatment.
Women and girls with disabilities are especially vulnerable to sexual assault or abuse. Persons with intellectual impairments and those in specialized institutions are also at particularly high risk. Around the world, children with disabilities are a large proportion of the children and persons with disabilities not enrolled in school, which results in their exclusion from vital sexual and reproductive health education that is often provided in school settings. Low literacy levels and a lack of HIV prevention information in accessible formats, such as Braille make it all the more difficult for persons with disabilities to acquire the knowledge they need to protect themselves from being infected.
Persons with disabilities are seldom recognized as a group to be included in the national response to HIV/AIDS. Integrating their specific needs is a crucial component to mitigate the worsening condition of persons with disabilities. The failure to understand and provide essential information to persons with disabilities concerning HIV/AIDS, results in their increasing marginalization. Work on HIV/AIDS issues at all levels, local, national, regional and global levels, should consider the rights and needs of persons with disabilities through the design of legislation, funding structures, policies, and programmes. HIV/AIDS professionals and advocates can help create a dialogue with and within the disability community to foster more open discussion of HIV/AIDS issues.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides a global policy framework to promote the equal rights to health for persons with disabilities, including sexual and reproductive health, on par with those without disabilities and enable policies to implement AIDS programming for persons with disabilities and programmes to fight against stigma, discrimination and other barriers faced by persons living with HIV/AIDS, Some countries have adopted anti discrimination laws and other measures that explicitly cover discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS.