It was International Awareness Week for the Deaf from September 18 through 25, 2017 and Zambart’s largest on-going study, the HPTN 071/PopART trial participated in the commemorations spearheaded by the Zambia National Association for the Deaf (ZNAD). The activities were aimed at highlighting the skills and challenges of the hearing impaired people in local communities, places of work, and public spaces.
Prior to the commemoration, a Zambart research team in Kanyama, Lusaka, one of the study communities, decided to create more impact to assist more people access the life-saving HIV antiretroviral treatment (ART) and prevention services, and contribute to their quality of lives. Kanyama is one of the 12 communities for Zambart’s largest clinical trial – the HPTN 071 (PopART) study. Six members of the PopART intervention team from Kanyama site were among the 17 students that completed basic training in sign language. The Kanyama PopART lay health counsellors called Community HIV Care Providers (CHiPs) become the second group to integrate sign language into their house-to-house HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) delivery.
Kanyama District Intervention Coordinator (DIC) Louis Mwape, said field teams were motivated to take the sign language course because they encounter hearing and speech impaired people in the community and fail to communicate with them. “We have many cases where our CHiPs meet clients who only understand sign language, and until now we only had one counsellor who had undergone basic sign language training and she would often be called upon to help her colleagues. The hospital also called her to help with communication between medical personnel and deaf patients. This was affecting her work in her zone.”
In 2015, the PopART intervention team in Makululu, Kabwe (Central Province), also adopted a similar strategy in order to include the hearing and speech impaired people in the community with the PopART intervention package.
The skills acquired by the CHiPs will also be extended to Kanyama First Level Hospital where PoPART study clients access various HIV and TB treatment and prevention services. The CHiPs will assist hearing and speech impaired patients including those referred to the hospital through the PopART intervention. “In this way, PopART will work in line with the theme for this year “Full Inclusion with Sign Language,” said Mwape.
Mwape said the training center for the hearing impaired has requested the Zambart team in Kanyama to send CHiPs to the facility and offer HCT services and link into care clients there with speech and hearing impairment. He added that the teams’ services will now be more comprehensive as they intensify the intervention mop up.
PopART Intervention Manager of Volunteer Medical Male Circumcision and TB, Ephraim Sakala, explained that Zambart in its work and activities desired to ensure that all people receive health services regardless of their condition. “The hearing impaired people need information on HIV/AIDS and TB so that they also can make informed decision on their health.” He said the knowledge and skills acquired by CHiPs in Basic Sign Language will help PopART study reach more people who may have been neglected through dissemination of awareness raising information.
At the site where the commemorations event was held, the PopART erected a tent from where they conducted HCT services and provided health information to over 40 people.