In Ethiopia, Internews found it was receiving many inquiries about HIV as it relates to disability, in particular access to services and information.
Many stories were being produced, but coverage of the issue was lacking in background and the voices of people living with disabilities were under-represented.
Disability remains an under-reported issue in the Ethiopian media, with many journalists uncomfortable about addressing this issue because of social taboos. To help journalists gain an understanding of the issues and report them accurately and appropriately, Internews convened a roundtable and invited Handicap International and local disability NGO Equal Opportunity.
The roundtable covered how HIV impacts people living with disabilities. Equal Opportunity Director Woinshet Mulusew, who is blind, shared her experience of how she was infected with HIV through sexual assault, and her determination to live positively and defiantly.
The feedback from journalists about the roundtable was positive, although it is clear more work needs to be done in this area. “It was a great discussion but not as open as usual because of the sensitivity of the issue and the language usage, said Yohannes Alemayehu of Zami Radio. “There are no guidelines to appropriate terminology to report around disability and HIV therefore journalists are still not comfortable to talk about it.”
One of the issues raised was the lack of access to information about HIV for people living with disabilities, in particular counseling and testing interpretation for the deaf.
Journalist Yenenesh Yitbarek of Sendiq Newspaper said,“I have learned new story ideas about disability and HIV/AIDS from the discussion. I can say the forum took my knowledge about disability and HIV one step ahead.”
In the week following the roundtable, the Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office, the government agency responsible for coordinating HIV in Ethiopia, convened a meeting to engage with disability advocacy organizations to determine a strategy to improve access to HIV information, treatment, care and support for the disabled community.
As a follow-up, Internews held a radio workshop on the theme of HIV and disability which guided journalists through reporting on this socially sensitive issue. The workshop addressed the language of reporting both HIV and disability and brought people living with disabilities together with journalists, many for the first time.
“This was the first time I had heard people sit down and discuss about disability and HIV. I think Internews did a great job and this could be an ice-breaker,” said Andualem Sisay, a reporter for FM 96.3.
Internews in Ethiopia is a public health and HIV media development project funded by PEPFAR through USAID.