Hope in the AIDS epicentre
"Save Your Life
- Learn About AIDS" proclaims a slogan on the side of the white truck
as it bounces along the dirt lanes of the rambling shanty community
of Chibolya, in Lusaka, the Zambian capital. Loudspeakers mounted
on the truck bark in all directions, "Come hear the Anti-AIDS Club
of Chibolya - performance in five minutes. Learn about AIDS - protect
are making a difference," asserts Levy Kafuti, the 23-year-old
coordinator of the troupe. "More people come to our performances
every time. By the time kids reach puberty, they will know exactly
how to protect themselves. It gives us much hope."
The vehicle, covered
in a thick coat of grey dust, stops in an open area where five young
men and one woman, all dressed in green plaid pants and T-shirts,
stand waiting. A crowd, numbering about 350 and including many
young children, gathers in a large circle around the performers and
breaks into song. The mood is festive although the message is
drummers signal the start of the performance. "Now we have come to teach
you about HIV/AIDS. Woza! [Come!]" they sing. A teenage boy
and girl sprint out and dance amid the swelling circle of young onlookers.
The rapt audience roars with laughter as the dancers give way to a young
man dressed in big red shoes, overalls and a funny hat. He is playing
the part of a father who is scolding his teenage daughter, "You mustn't
go out with so many men!"
the performance, audience members crowd around the truck asking for
information about AIDS and for condoms. "We are making a difference,"
asserts Levy Kafuti, the 23-year-old coordinator of the troupe. "More
people come to our performances every time. By the time kids reach
puberty, they will know exactly how to protect themselves. It gives
us much hope."
Anti-AIDS Club of Chibolya, formed in 1995, is one of 1,760 such clubs
in Zambia spreading AIDS-prevention messages through a variety
of activities. The Chibolya Club's boys' soccer team and girls' netball
team, for instance, deliver HIV/AIDS-awareness messages at their games.
Performances of the 10-member drama troupe are staged in conjunction
with visits of the Family Health Trust 'AIDSmobile', which distributes
free condoms, advice and literature.
(Adapted from the
State of the World’s Children 2000, UNICEF)
studies of positive efforts
Throughout the world there are examples of courage
and strength in fighting the AIDS epidemic. Below are a few of these.
An outstanding example is the peer education
program of the Mathare Youth Sports Association in Kenya,
an organization run by and for young people. The majority
of its several hundred volunteer staff are under the age of
16. These trained volunteers carry out HIV prevention fieldwork
within the community through small group discussions and workshops
during sports activities at weekends. Every
year, 50 new peer educators are trained to deliver this programme
to some 8,500 adolescents between 12 and 20 years of age who
participate in their weekly football and other sports activities.
Since 1987, the programme has reached over 30,000 young people.
UWESO (Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans)
originally started to help children orphaned by war, and changed
its focus in response to the AIDS crisis. UWESO funds education
and training for AIDS orphans, and gives small loans to help
their caretakers start up small businesses and trading activities
AIDS Hotline and Counselling
Service in Egypt is a telephone counselling service that gives
people a chance to talk about sex and sexuality in a society
where it is culturally taboo to do so. The anonymity
encourages people to call, and the Hotline receives over 1000
calls each month, much more than originally anticipated.
In Zambia, a group of NGOs collaborated
with the Ministry of Health, the district council and young
people themselves to make their health services more youth-friendly.
They trained 52 young people over a period of two weeks to
provide counseling on pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections,
substance abuse, financial concerns, and communication with
sex partners. Side by side with the medical
staff in the primary health care clinics, these peer counselors
act as the link between their peers and the medical staff,
attending to their special needs and assisting them to deal
with the intricacies of a public health system. The
results have been a remarkable increase in the attendance
of young people in these services and the stronger intergenerational
relationships within the community.
The Maiti Project in Nepal rescues children
and young women from traffickers. Instead
of being sold into prostitution, the girls are given vocational
training, support and counselling. As a result of Maiti’s
work, 105 child traffickers have been imprisoned.
The National Union
of Eritrea Youth and Students has also set up youth-friendly
health and recreation centres, where young volunteers provide
peer education and outreach activities that include reproductive
health, STD/AIDS prevention, and counselling for out-of-school
there are success stories, the fight against HIV is far from won. In
1999 alone, 5.4 million people were infected. There are still several
areas where more intense actions have been taken.
AIDS left behind 13.2 million orphans – children who, before
the age of 15, lost either their mother or both parents to AIDS.
These children face malnourishment,
leave school to earn a living or care for younger siblings,
face illness, abuse and sexual exploitation because they are
no longer protected by their parents. Families
who take in orphans often have insufficient resources to feed
the children and to pay for their schooling. Orphans need help
supporting themselves and their siblings without having to turn
to the streets or orphanages that reduce their chances of health
Infection rates are over five
times higher in teenage girls than in teenage boys in Sub-Saharan
Africa. These numbers show sexual mixing between
generations: in rural areas of the United Republic of Tanzania,
some 17 per cent of married teenagers reported having had sex
with a man at least 10 years older than themselves. Interventions
is needed to help girls avoid sex with older men, help them
pay for school so that they do not need older men to do it for
them, and condemn men who choose young sex partners.
Thinking that HIV can be contained within
drug using populations has proven wrong because drug users have
sex with non-drug users and spread HIV to the general population.
It is common for injecting drug users to sell sex to pay for
drugs, thus, the prospect of sexual transmission is highly probable.
Comprehensive HIV prevention programmes that include AIDS education,
condom promotion, needle exchange and drug treatment have shown
to help reduce the high risk of new infections both in developed
countries, such as the United States, and in newly emerging
market economies, such as Belarus.
In the hardest hit countries of Africa, a great number of
schools have shut down because too many teachers have died of
AIDS. In addition, many students have dropped out of schools
due to lack of resources to pay for educational expenses and
to the need to care for sick members of their families. The
education sector, which is counted on by society to help nurture
young people and enable them to have jobs in the future, is
jeopardized. Moreover, the potentially
powerful role of schools, as a channel of the life skills education
needed for AIDS prevention and care, is lost.
and reproductive health education and services: Education
and information are fundamental human rights. When people,
especially children and adolescents, are denied the basic information,
education and skills to deal with HIV – whether because of religious
values, or socio-cultural preferences -- they are less able
to reduce their own risk of infection. They are also deprived
of the knowledge of health services where they can access information
and assistance for health problems, both for problems commonly
met by young people, such as unwanted pregnancy and drug use,
and for prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
to drugs: Ninety per cent of the people living with
HIV have no access to drugs that help to combat the virus or
its associated diseases. Reducing the price of drugs through
negotiations with patent holding drug companies or producing
generic forms of the drugs will make them affordable to people
in the developing world. The health sector must be strengthened.
Clinics and hospitals must be well equipped with staff and medication,
so that they can treat diseases common to people with HIV, such
AIDS is not only a medical issue. The economic impact of
the disease is reflected in the highly –affected communities,
where labour force is reduced and family structure is dismantled.
Providing loans or grants to families caring for people living
with HIV and to AIDS orphans may help families remove themselves
from extreme poverty, which has increased vulnerability to HIV
of stigma and discrimination: In 1998, on World AIDS
Day, a young South African woman told her community about her
HIV infection. Several days later she was stoned to death. Her
story is not an isolated incident as people with HIV are regularly
turned away by health care providers, denied jobs and housing,
refused insurance and entry to foreign countries, thrown out
by their spouse or family, and even murdered. Protection
of the rights of people living with AIDS is necessary for people
to feel safe, whether they are working to prevent the disease
or struggling to live with it.
goals: taking action
Kofi Annan, in his Millennium Report presented for consideration
at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations (6-8 September 2000),
has proposed a series of actions the Governments should take to contain
and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, including: