|© UNICEF DRC/2009/Sawadogo|
|UNICEF’s Chief of HIV and AIDS Jimmy Kolker (in blue shirt) visited the capital of DR Congo, Kinshasa, and saw firsthand efforts by UNICEF and its partners to help children affected by or living with HIV and AIDS.|
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 8 April 2009 – DR Congo is where the first known cases of AIDS were identified, and today up to half a million people here are living with HIV – over 50,000 of them children.
Even despite the many other crises that have beset the country over the past two decades, there are measures that can and should be taken immediately to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV and AIDS in DR Congo.
Accelerating the work that UNICEF is already doing throughout the country was the main purpose of Chief of HIV and AIDS Jimmy Kolker’s recent visit to Kinshasa. The capital accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s population of 70 million, and an even higher percentage of those living with or at risk for HIV. But it still has relatively low coverage of key interventions, such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and testing and treatment of children born to HIV-positive mothers.
In one aspect of the response to the issue of children and AIDS, however – helping families caring for children who have lost parents to the disease or are orphaned or vulnerable for other reasons – DR Congo offers a best practice. During a visit to one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Kinshasa, Mr. Kolker saw firsthand UNICEF’s positive impact on foster-family coping mechanisms and the lives of children affected by HIV and AIDS.
UNICEF and its partner Caritas are promoting a community-driven, family-centred approach to care for orphans, and are making efforts to keep vulnerable children in school. The partnership offers direct support to 110,000 orphans and vulnerable children; it also provides local schools with desks, exercise books and other educational materials.
Similar initiatives with local clinics aim at ensuring that orphans and vulnerable children receive health care.
“The difficulty faced by national health and education systems in DRC offers an opportunity for UNICEF to help facilitate partnerships between groups like Caritas … and those under-resourced services, so vulnerable children are not left out,” explained Mr. Kolker. “We also see opportunities for better targeting of prevention efforts for youth, building on the excellent model already in place for reaching orphans and vulnerable children.”
Focus on women and children
While in Kinshasa, Mr. Kolker consulted with UNICEF partners that are addressing each of the so-called Four ‘P’s: preventing mother-to-child transmission (also known as PMTCT); paediatric treatment; preventing infection among adolescents; and protecting and caring for children affected by the disease.
Among the projects Mr. Kolker visited was the country’s only one-stop paediatric care and treatment site, where children living with HIV receive a full range of services. He also met with key government officials, the Global Fund principal recipient in Dr Congo, and non-governmental partners.
The trip laid the groundwork for a UNICEF-led Inter-Agency Task Team joint mission to DR Congo to work on improving PMTCT services.
“My hypothesis before the visit was that there is high-quality care and treatment available to a limited number of people in the DR Congo,” said Mr. Kolker. “My visit confirmed that conditions exist – despite the hardship – to scale up those services to reach many times the number of mothers and children who now have access to them.
“The numbers are so great and the need is so urgent that we can’t afford to wait for a viable nationwide system to be in place before we put into action government policy to reach more children, starting in Kinshasa itself,” he added.