|© UNICEF Video|
|Malagasy women and their children wait for results at a local HIV testing centre. HIV prevalence rates in Madagascar are among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.|
By Sarah Crowe
MAROAMBIHY, Madagascar, 2 November 2006 – Here in Madagascar, political leaders take HIV tests in public, condoms are easily available and mobile testing units are sent to remote parts of the country.
But none of this is being done in response to high HIV rates. In fact, the country has one of the lowest rates in sub-Saharan Africa – and the Malagasy seem determined to keep the virus at bay.
Until now, Madagascar’s geographical and political isolation has kept HIV prevalance low, but a recent economic boom and an increase in sex tourism and prostitution are now cause for concern. In the leadup to elections next month, President Marc Ravalomanana has called fighting HIV/AIDS a top priority of his government.
‘No need to be ashamed’
“You need to set the example,” he said, referring to his own public HIV test. “That’s why I did a blood test, to show the people that this is key.”
President Ravalomanana’s actions have triggered a major drive for other political leaders to lead by example and make sure the HIV epidemic raging elsewhere in southern Africa doesn’t take root in Madagascar.
“It’s important to sensitize the whole population, but also to put out the word that there’s no need to be ashamed about getting tested,” said one local leader, Mayor Savaka Ralison of Maroambihy.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Madagascar’s President Marc Ravalomanana has taken a public HIV test as part of an AIDS awareness campaign.|
Maintaining low HIV rates
These efforts seem to be paying off in Madagascar. Awareness of the disease is widespread and condom use for HIV prevention appears to be high, even in the poorest communities.
Recently in the isolated rural area of Amboangibe Lokoho, a group of little boys marched up and down the road blowing whistles in anticipation of a UNICEF-supported AIDS awareness event. After a traditional flag-raising ceremony and a brief pep talk, the villagers attended an open-air HIV counselling and testing session.
Unless the pace of such interventions is kept up, however, the Malagasy population will be vulnerable to a dangerous spike in HIV prevalance. In some nearby countries, the rate is as much as 15 times higher than Madagascar’s.
“In Madagascar, the rate of prevalence for HIV/AIDS is below 1 per cent, and we want to keep that,” said President Ravalomanana. “If we work together with UNICEF, the Global Fund [to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria], the World Bank and the European Union, I’m sure we can keep the rate down.”
20 October 2006:
UNICEF Communication Officer Sarah Crowe speaks with President Marc Ravalomanana about keeping HIV prevalence rates low.