Malise Swila's hands move with rapid determination and grace as she explains the importance of educating others about HIV/AIDS. A 39-year-old interpreter, teacher and mother of three, Malise is also deaf. At the age of five, Malise lost her hearing as a result of complications from malaria.
Malise is one of 16 leaders from the deaf community who participated in a four-week course on HIV counseling and testing, supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Emergency Plan/PEPFAR). The first of its kind for Tanzania, the course trains leaders and teachers from the deaf community to provide HIV counseling services using sign language.
Malise and the other leaders will use their new skills and credentials as certified HIV/AIDS Counselors to work at the African Medical and Research Foundation's HIV counseling and testing sites across the country. They will also collaborate with members of the Tanzanian Association of the Deaf to ensure that deaf people have information about HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care.
While there is no official census, estimates suggest there are more than 500,000 deaf Tanzanians. Most are poor with no reliable income. Relatively few deaf people attend formal schools, making access to information a serious challenge. The HIV/AIDS Counselors will help to overcome the communications barrier by sharing information about HIV/AIDS using sign language.
When asked about the impact of stigma among the deaf, Malise's broad smile narrowed. "If you're a deaf person with AIDS, you get a double stigma. That's why I'm always thinking, how can I help my fellows, how can we go about getting more strategies to allow us to overcome these times of crisis?"
Malise is confident as she describes how she and her peers will use their new skills to make an impact in their communities: "Being able to talk to a deaf person about these issues can be much easier than talking to a hearing person. That's why it's such an opportunity to have learned how to gain the trust of and counsel others."
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