|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo meets a young child and her mother (back right) at the therapeutic feeding centre of the Lira Regional Referral Hospital in northern Uganda.|
By Sarah Crowe
LIRA DISTRICT, Uganda, 21 November 2006 – On a two-day official visit to northern Uganda, an area just emerging from conflict, renowned musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo spread the message of HIV prevention and testing in her unique way – bopping and hopping with the women and skipping and jumping with the girls.
But in a region with the country’s highest HIV-prevalence rates, her mission was a serious one. On the first anniversary of Uganda’s launch of the UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign, Ms. Kidjo drummed her message home.
“You have got to get tested – that is my appeal to you,” she said repeatedly in visits to camps for displaced people. “Your country needs you, we need you to build up Africa.”
|At Alela village in northern Uganda's Lira District, Angélique Kidjo listens to stories of formerly abducted children.|
Two decades of armed conflict, abductions, sexual abuse and the displacement of 1.6 million people living in severely cramped conditions have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in Uganda – leading to high HIV rates and poor access to services.
Children have been hit the hardest, forced to commute to night shelters to avoid abduction by rebels. Abducted girls have been given out to commanders as ‘wives’, and boys have been forced to carry weapons or fight. Many are not accepted back into their homes once they return.
Those horrors are fresh in the minds of children at a UNICEF-supported centre near the Agweng camp for the displaced, where children showed Ms. Kidjo their drawings with images of abduction and violence.
“It enrages me to see how these children have been treated,” said Ms. Kidjo. “They have been forced to live like animals. As an African person it makes me ashamed. But now that there is real hope for peace, we have to do everything we can to help these children,” she added, referring to the government's recent announcement that it had agreed to a truce ending hostilities with the Lord's Resistance Army.
|Angélique Kidjo commends health workers for their efforts at an HIV-testing centre in the Agweng camp for displaced people outside the city of Lira in northern Uganda.|
“Uganda started reacting really early on to HIV/AIDS, but because of this conflict the numbers have remained high up here,” noted Ms. Kidjo. “Before we call up to the rich people of the country to come and help, we have to start helping ourselves.”
Uganda’s AIDS response has been a model for other African countries, achieving a dramatic decline in HIV prevalence since the early 1990s. About 50 percent of those who need treatment are receiving it. In the north, more people are being tested and receiving treatment.
Prevention, testing and treatment
“Our concern is now we have to continue to reduce the vulnerability of these people in the north and make sure they can start providing services for HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment,” said UNICEF Representative in Uganda Martin Mogwanja.
“They have been forced to live cheek-by-jowl,” he added. “The whole social fabric has broken down. Now, as people start going home, we have to ensure that kind of HIV sero-prevalence rate here does not go back into the community. Otherwise we are not going to get out of the cycle of AIDS. Peace is a great opportunity and we must seize that.”
The signs may be promising, but females between the ages of 14 and 19 are at the highest risk of HIV, so the emphasis now is on giving girls power over their own lives. Through her visit here, Ms. Kidjo aims to harness growing hope and help the children of northern Uganda move onto a new, more secure phase.
21 November 2006:
At a camp in northern Uganda, UNICEF Representative Martin Mogwanja explains the importance of HIV education, prevention and testing among people displaced by conflict.