In Lusaka, Zambia, hearing impaired and deaf students gather twice a week in a local high school to participate in Zambia’s “Safe Love” campaign. Since 2011, Safe Love participants across the country have been meeting to talk about sex, HIV/AIDS, and relationships, but until recently, deaf students were left out.
In response to alarmingly high levels of HIV/AIDS among hearing-impaired young people, special Safe Love sessions for deaf students began two months ago.
Ben Miti is the executive director of the Latkings Outreach program, one of the partners of the Safe Love initiative. He says that the first deaf sessions of the program were set up at Munali High School, after health workers tested 127 deaf students for HIV, and 48 were found to be positive.
“Many of these young people have completely missed out on the conventional messages about safe sex,” says Miti. “Lots of warnings are given out over the radio or on television, which is something they are cut off from. There is no program designed specifically for the deaf.”
Safe sex education is crucial in Zambia, a country where 14.3% of the adult population is said to be HIV positive.
At the Munali High School club, deaf students are now able to share stories and exchange information in sign language, with the help of a facilitator and a translator. Since the group launched so many young people have joined that a second group has now started.
262 Safe Love clubs currently operate in Zambia, as part of the government’s HIV prevention campaign, supported by USAID.