Communicating with the deaf and dumb may be a herculean task especially where there is no interpreter. IPAS in collaboration with Australian Aid recently seeks ways of giving voice to those with this form of disability in the society.

By Reuben Nwankwo

IPAS country director in partnership with Australian Aid has advocated that at least one sign language interpreter should be deployed to all public health facilities across the country to facilitate health care for deaf people especially women.
Speaking during an event in Abuja IPASS Country Director Hauwa Shekarau stated that Staff of public health facilities should be encouraged to take some education on sign language interpretation to compliment the sign language interpreter services at health facilities in the country.
The group said that through its Direct Aid Program it has facilitated the availability of sign language interpretation within the health system in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and increased access to reproductive health services for deaf women.
According to Shekarau, “the overall goal of the project is to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality among deaf women in the FCT. The project’s specific objectives are to increase the capacity of Sign Language Interpreters (SLIs) to provide accurate, rights-based information on reproductive health; to increase access to sign language interpretation within the health system and ultimately increase access to health care for deaf women.
“The direct beneficiaries of the project have been the deaf women in the federal capital territory seeking reproductive health or other health services. The project has helped reduced one of the major barriers to health-care access for deaf women as a result of increased sign language interpretation within the health system.
She further stated that the immediate beneficiaries include the sign language interpreters whose capacity has been built to provide accurate rights-based information on reproductive health.
The health providers themselves have also benefited from the project by being able to better understand and address the special needs of these clients.
The group blamed communication barrier to accessing health care as the major reason for the high rate of morbidity and mortality recorded among the deaf as only very few of them who could personally afford the services of Sign Language Interpreters to accompany them when visiting health facilities were the ones accessing health care.
It noted that some of them that summon the courage to go to health facilities returned frustrated as much as the care givers who tried in their efforts to attend to their health needs and regretted that attendance at antenatal and delivery at health facilities were near zero among the deaf women.
According to the group all these are changing for the deaf women living within the FCT with this project and the untold joy and appreciation by the deaf women and their families is very palpable when one interacts with them on how they feel about the project.
“The key results achieved are reflected in the number of deaf women served within the period which by extension shows the number of deaf women and the number of times these women would have either resulted to self-medication or not accessed any form of health care at all. It is therefore also correct to record these results as the number of potential maternal morbidity and maternity that was averted within the period.
Highlight of the event is the project evaluation exercise conducted by IPAS showed that the introduction of sign language interpretation services at select health facilities brought about remarkable improvement in quality of care and efficiency in service delivery to deaf women.
The intervention has according to the group has also restored deaf women’s confidence in the health system. It has also helped to foster a cordial relationship between health care providers and deaf women clients. It noted that the attitude of health care providers to deaf clients has also improved positively as described by most of the deaf women and health care providers that are assisted by sign language interpreters at the time of attending to deaf clients are always satisfied and encouraged to serve more deaf clients.
In her remarks, the National President Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (DWAN) Mrs. Adedoyin Beyioku Alase urged governments at all levels to ensure that the programme continue and cover not only government owned hospitals but everywhere including police formations, private hospitals and court rooms across the country. “Let there be interpreters everywhere. Putting them in all strategic public places is our vision 2030. No one should be left behind”, he said.

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