|© UNICEF video|
|Marina, a 19-year-old college student, decided to take the HIV test after receiving encouragement from peer educators. To her great relief, she tested negative.|
By Bob CoenThe 14th International Conference on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa – ICASA 2005 – is being held in the Nigerian capital Abuja, 4-9 December. Thousands of scientists, academics, representatives of governments and international organizations, as well as people living with HIV have gathered there to discuss how families in Africa can be better empowered to respond to the AIDS pandemic, and what needs to be done to address the increasing problems of HIV/AIDS.
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, 5 December 2005 – Marina, a 19-year-old college student, bursts into tears when she is told the result of her HIV test, her hands covering her face. But these are tears of joy and relief – she has tested negative.
“The waiting was really difficult but I was praying, I was praying to God,” she says. “When I got my result I was so relieved and happy!”
More than 7 per cent of Côte d'Ivoire’s population is living with HIV – the highest rate in West Africa. And like everywhere else, it is young people such as Marina who are most at risk.
It was difficult decision for Marina to take the test. She hesitated for weeks, then, resolving to see it through, she went to ‘Action Light’, a UNICEF-supported centre in Abobo, a working class neighbourhood in the capital city Abidjan. The centre provides free voluntary testing, counselling and education on HIV/AIDS.
Before taking the test Marina met with Marie-Louise Yogbwe, one of the centre’s counsellors. It was also Marie-Louise’s job to give Marina the test result. “If the result is negative, all the better,” Marie-Louise says.
“But if it’s positive they are not abandoned, and we are here to support them. We give them access to free medical facilities and health care, along with psychosocial support that will allow them to live positively with the virus.”
|© UNICEF video|
|Young peer educators from ‘Action Light’ are on their way to schools and colleges to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.|
Raising awareness among young people
‘Action Light’ also trains young peer educators, sending them out to schools and colleges across the country to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and prevention.
“Someone who is ill-informed or ignores the risks posed by HIV is the most dangerous,” says peer educator Evariste Koné, speaking at a school, surrounded by hundreds of students who had come to hear him and his colleagues. “That’s why these young people really want to be informed. Because the more you learn, the more you know, and the more you know how to avoid HIV.”
It was a visit by the ‘Action Light’ peer educators to Marina’s college that convinced her of the need to know her status. Marina also learned about the risks and about prevention. Now, equipped with additional knowledge, she too will help spread the word.
“It taught me a lot,” she says. “When I leave here I’m going to talk with those who haven’t taken the test yet and tell them it’s important to know your status.”
Each day, more than 6,000 young people aged 15-24 become infected with HIV around the world. Preventing new infections among adolescents and young people is one of the most urgent priorities for UNICEF and its partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The recently launched global campaign, UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS, sets out the goal of reducing the percentage of young people living with HIV by 25 per cent globally, by the year 2010.
Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this story.
5 November 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on the organization’s work to protect young people from HIV/AIDS in Côte d'Ivoire.