NAC Donates PPE And Face Masks That Enable Lip Reading To Zim’s Deaf Community

THE National AIDS Council (NAC) has handed over a donation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the deaf community in Zimbabwe.

By Michael Gawarisa

The donation also includes 5000 special user-friendly face masks that were handed over to the Sunrise Academy of Sign Language on behalf of the deaf community which enables lip reading, which is essential in sign language communication.

Speaking at the handover ceremony in Harare, NAC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Bernard Madzima said there was approximately 700 000 people who have been classified as deaf in Zimbabwe and the donation would go a long way in facilitating and easing communication about both HIV and COVID-19 including the ongoing vaccination

It is both an honour and pleasure for me to warmly welcome you to the home of the national response to HIV in Zimbabwe, to officially handover face masks that we have procured for the deaf community. 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.

“This includes the Deaf community. Zimbabwe has an estimated 700,000 people 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,” said Dr Madzima.

He added that they had adopted a two-pronged approach to HIV and COVID-19 as they endeavor to embraced the same principle in pursuit of the 95-95-95 targets as we pursue HIV epidemic control.

“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.”

The work between Sunrise Academy of Sign Language and NAC is part of the ongoing partnership the two organisation 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.”

Receiving the donation on behalf of the deaf community in Zimbabwe, Professor Lincoln Hlatshwayo expressed gratitude to NAC for the donation saying it would go a long way in enabling communication amongst the deaf community at the same time protecting them from COVID-19 infection.

“Without these face masks which allow lip and facial expression reading, communication would be difficult amongst the deaf community. One needs to see whether one is smiling or how he is talking so these face masks allow that to happen.

“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, at least 7% of the population is living with disabilities. In 2017, ZIMSATS released statistics which indicate that 9.3% of the national population is living with disabilities and of these 12-13% are deaf. We see that these are very huge numbers and by leaving them behind, the country will not progress,” said Prof Hlatshwayo.

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