The Ghana National Association of the Deaf (GNAD) has unveiled a comprehensive training programme for 30 deaf peer educators from Western, Upper West, and Bono regions on sexual reproductive health and safe menstrual hygiene practices.
This aims to help the students who have dropped out of school to make informed decisions about their sexuality and aid their peers in overcoming sexual reproductive health-related issues at the regional level.
Mr Juventus Duorinaah, Executive Director of GNAD, told the Ghana News Agency that the main purpose was to guarantee that deaf adolescent youth of reproductive age and adults had access to excellent information and services on their sexual reproductive health rights.
He stated SRH was a development issue and a serious health concern in Ghana, as evidenced by figures showing that sexually transmitted infections among young people of reproductive age, pregnancy-related complications, and unsafe induced abortions accounted for more than 11 per cent of maternal mortality.
Despite the fact that the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and civil society organizations have taken substantial steps to address the worrying trends in recent years, he said deaf people have been mostly ignored.
Some of the government’s actions, he said, included a number policies, a large media push to raise awareness and direct capacity building for adults, and the promotion of youth and adolescent friendly programs.
“Despite the country’s significant improvements in SRH, the interventions have done nothing to address the SRH requirements of Ghana’s Deaf community,” he said.
Healthcare personnel, he noted, still lack the necessary knowledge about Ghana’s deaf community, their SRH needs, methods for delivering deaf-friendly support services, and a basic understanding of their general health needs.
Mr Duorinaah pointed out that SRH education via electronic media was still unavailable to the deaf, and that SRH materials via electronic media was never captioned or signed.
He also expressed issue about GHS reproductive health documentaries or IEC materials, stating that “none of the Ghana Health Service documentaries made has a sign language translation, nor are sub-titles offered.”
“Deaf and hard-of-hearing girls and women are part of Ghanaian society,” he added. “Just like non-deaf individuals, deaf men and women engage in sex, and adolescent deaf are sexually active.”
“They have the same sexual reproductive health requirements and concerns,” he said. “They also face all of the obstacles that come with womanhood.”
As a result, he said, GNAD took an innovative strategy in training and building the capacity of peer educators or SRH champions who are fluent in Ghanaian Sign Language, so that they can help their peers overcome SRH-related issues.
“Overall, we want to create a community where deaf women, girls, and sexually active adolescents are well-informed about their SRH rights and can take advantage of current chances to obtain non-stigma SRH services in a private setting,” he said.
He noted that CSO activism around SRH has gained traction, but “the activism does not include deaf people, a scenario that is unacceptable.”
In March this year, similar trainings for in-school adolescent girls were held at Savelugu School for the Deaf, Hohoe School for the Deaf, and Bechem School for the Deaf.
Amplify Change Fund, which has been sponsoring GNAD since 2019, provided support to the organization, which is the national voice of about 470,737 people with varied degrees of hearing loss.
Relying on this support, the association has been able to reach over 400 school children, with plans afoot to provide sanitary products to adolescent deaf girls in schools.
Mrs. Selorme Sefenu, a nurse and public health promotion officer, led the participants through a series of topics including peer educators’ role in SRH, sexually transmitted infections, menstrual hygiene, teenage pregnancy, family planning and contraception, adolescent development, abortion, and sexual and gender-based violence.
Ms Stephanie Nzema, a participant, told the GNA that deaf people did not have the opportunity to be educated on their sexual reproductive rights until recently.
“When we try to read from the internet or Facebook, there is no interpreter to explain things to us,” she said. Adding, but “this programme is giving us the opportunity to ask questions and get things explained to us.”
“We, the deaf, are always left out of public health education programmes on television; we just sit there and watch photos and read people’s lips without comprehending anything.”