|© UNICEF Kenya/2006/Bonn|
|Singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo surrounded by children in the Githogoro slum district of Nairobi, Kenya.|
By Juliett Otieno
NAIROBI, Kenya, 1 May 2006 – It was not a typical day for the children at the Githogoro Community Outreach Programme. In addition to their routine check-ups, they were treated to a visit late last week by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo, on the fourth day of her trip to Kenya. Earlier in the week the West African singer-songwriter had visited drought-affected communities in northern Kenya.
Ms. Kidjo spent the better part of the morning with the children as they queued for medication and received their vaccinations. She called for unity in the fight against HIV to make drugs accessible to infected children.
“It is not their fault that they are infected. HIV is not a curse, children just need treatment and for us to invest in their lives and education to help them become adults with a better future,” she said.
Need for AIDS drugs
For many families in Githogoro, a slum district of Nairobi, the outreach clinic is the only chance they have for immunization or any form of medical treatment. Githogoro has a population estimated at over 20,000, half of which is made up of children under the age of 12.
Ms. Kidjo met one child from the area, Veronica, 6, whose mother had just been informed that her daughter is infected with HIV.
“This is one reason we need ARVs [antiretroviral medications], for children such as these, for such situations,” said Ms. Kidjo. “People need to understand that HIV is real, it is not over and we need to unite against it. We need to keep the future of this continent going. The drugs need to reach everywhere in Africa. If we cannot prevent HIV, the only solution is a cure, and both go hand in hand. AIDS does not have a cure but drugs give hope.”
|© UNICEF Kenya/2006/Bonn|
|Angélique Kidjo with a child at the Githogoro clinic.|
Holding Veronica on her lap, Ms. Kidjo became emotional as the children surrounded her. “I just want to cry, but I can’t because we have to keep hope going,” she said. “We need the drugs to be free or cheap enough to afford. Our governments need to be behind us and help, or 10 years from now they will see the results of this.”
A message of warning
Earlier that morning at the Paediatric AIDS Clinic at Kenya’s Gertrude’s Garden Children’s Hospital – which supports the Githogoro project – Ms. Kidjo had spent time with children orphaned by AIDS or abandoned by their families because of their HIV status. So far, the clinic has enrolled 130 HIV-positive children, 117 of whom are on ARVs.
Of the more than 1.2 million Kenyans living with HIV, at least 100,000 are children below the age of 15. Due to high levels of poverty, many HIV-affected children in poor areas like Githogoro cannot access quality health care or nutrition.
Ms. Kidjo stressed her message to Africa – a message of warning about lifestyles that can contribute to the spread of HIV, which has such a devastating impact on children.
“Africa needs to know that prevention is the better way, people need to be careful,” she said. For women whose cultures make it difficult to avoid unprotected sex, she added, access to ARVs is critical. “Let us get out priorities right and not judge them,” asserted Ms. Kidjo. “Let us fight AIDS first, then talk of morality,”
She left the children with the clarion call, “Mtoto Kwanza” – Swahili for “Children First,” which is also the title of a song she dedicated to UNICEF on her latest album ‘Oyaya!’