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Spreading the word about the birds and the bees

Published Date: 30 Jan 2020

Improving deaf young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health in Uganda

We believe at Deaf Child Worldwide that in order for deaf young people to have a better quality of life as they grow from children into young adults, it’s important that they grow up with the right information to make informed choices especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive health.

In sub-Saharan Africa, sexual transmitted diseases, HIV and unplanned pregnancies are high. In Uganda, where we work, enormous strides have been taken to fight HIV and AIDS, however the statistics are still alarming, especially for young people between the ages of 14-24. And people with disabilities (especially deaf young girls) have a greater risk of HIV, sexual transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies often due to sexual violence and low levels of literacy which often means limited knowledge on health-related issues.

While Uganda has a National Adolescent and Young People’s Health Policy, sexual health is still poorly addressed, rarely discussed openly and deaf young people are excluded further with few doctors and nurses able to communicate directly with deaf teenagers.

Putting deaf young people at the heart of the project

In April 2017 Deaf Child Worldwide kick started the Birds and the Bees project. The project started with consultation sessions which led to discussions about gaps in participants’ knowledge and how they obtain sexual and reproductive health information. Key recommendations from the sessions included: creating educational materials which are deaf friendly, ensuring everything is accessible to those who can’t read or sign, and considering how to get the information to hard to reach deaf young people who are at higher risk.

With this information, we worked alongside SignHealth to deliver a disability inclusion project aimed at transforming the way deaf young people access sexual and reproductive health information through training peer leaders, health workers and educators.

Empowering deaf young people to be peer leaders

We worked with 35 deaf youths across three cities; Masaka, Kampala and Jinja. To help spread the word, we training deaf young people to be ‘peer educators’ to give advice, counselling and training to others about issues such as relationships, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. As well as educating others, the project gave peer educators a sense of purpose and confidence, as well as communication and leadership skills.

As part of the project Olivia (24) leads a youth group and advises other deaf young people in Uganda about sexual health says:

“Girls in the community mostly have concerns about marriage, sex and human rights. There are cases of rape, violations, early pregnancies, abuse and forced marriage.

“I’ve been Vice Chair of my youth group for more than two years, and use the training I receive from national deaf association on leadership, teamwork, HIV and sexual health, to support other deaf young people. Without the training I may not have been as careful as I wouldn’t have known all the ways you can get HIV. Now, I avoid risky situations.

“I often help out deaf friends who have questions about HIV, and when working in the community, I give other young people all the information I know – we can talk and stay safe.”

Photo: Olivia leading a deaf youth group in Uganda

The project highlighted a number of important outcomes:

  • Training peer leaders has a major benefit for deaf young people to obtain information and to talk freely about sexual reproductive health, but ensuring peer leaders are trained properly is still a challenge to ensure the right information is shared amongst peer groups
  • While deaf young people that participated in the study knew what services were readily available to access information, deaf young people struggle to communicate with medical professionals to get the most out of these services
  • Working with health service providers helped to improve communication methods and doctors and medics understood that deaf young people have equal needs to their hearing peers but there needs to be more support for health workers with trainer interpreters
  • Deaf young people reported to use and access sexual reproductive health services (especially HIV testing) and contraception but alarmingly gender disparity is still high with 45% participants of the project thinking only women should be responsible for regular use of contraception
  • This project was an opportunity for SignHealth to trial new approached placing deaf young people in the spotlight through the expertise shared by Deaf Child Worldwide. The project developed deaf young people’s leadership skills, ownership of the project and confidence building.

You can download the full report from the project.

Consultation with deaf young people in Uganda

We had a consultation with deaf young people from Kampala in Uganda in partnership with Sign Health Uganda.