|© Martin Verzilli/InSTEDD|
|Adolescents use the mobile data collection application UNICEF-GIS during a digital mapping workshop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
From 22 to 27 July, experts are gathering in Washington, D.C., for the International AIDS Society’s biennial conference on rolling back the HIV and AIDS epidemic. UNICEF has hosted a leadership forum stressing the need for innovation in eliminating new HIV infections in children. This story is part of a series illustrating UNICEF's efforts on behalf of children and women affected by HIV.
By Jean Panel Fanfan
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 25 July 2012 – Before an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, the country’s HIV and AIDS response focused largely on treatment, care and support – with much less attention given to preventing the spread of the virus.
Today, however, even as Haiti still struggles to recover from the quake, there is agreement that HIV and AIDS must be addressed through a holistic approach that includes prevention. Services for people affected by the epidemic are growing both more reliable and more widely available, but programmes responding to the special vulnerability of young people to infection – particularly adolescents – must be scaled up.
Haiti’s HIV prevalence rate is 1.9 per cent among adults aged 15 to 49. The population is young, with 33 per cent of Haitians between 10 and 24 years old, and vulnerabilities to HIV for young people abound, particularly in the slums and camps of Port-au-Prince.
Putting risk on the map
In partnership with two local organizations, GHESKIO and the National Office against Violence (ONAVC), UNICEF is taking on the challenge of identifying places where adolescents and young people are at increased risk of contracting HIV. Together, they are engaged in a mapping initiative in two communities in Port-au-Prince that is intended to reveal the obstacles that keep vulnerable adolescents – particularly girls – from gaining access to HIV prevention services.
The project’s results will be used to increase adolescents’ and young people’s use of HIV, sexual and reproductive health-related services. By engaging these groups with mapping technology, the initiative empowers youth to effectively advocate for addressing issues in their communities.
|© Martin Verzilli/InSTEDD|
|Two of the 24 adolescent mappers collect preliminary data using mobile phones to map geographic locations of identified risks related to HIV and AIDS in Village de Dieu, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
In July, 24 adolescents from the low-income communities of Cité Plus and Village de Dieu took part in a four-day training. They learned about HIV risks, modes of transmission and prevention methods, and received instruction in the UNICEF-GIS innovative digital mapping platform developed by UNICEF, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters (INSTEDD). During the workshop, the adolescents collected preliminary data using mobile phones to map geographic locations for each identified risk related to HIV and AIDS.
Twelve facilitators were also trained to assist the mapping team. The data collection process is expected to take three months, culminating in the production of a digital map for distribution to local authorities. Officials will use that information to improve access to, and uptake and quality of, HIV and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents.
‘We still have a lot to do’
Haiti’s Secretary of State for Youth and Civic Action, Francener Thélusma, was present during the launch of the initiative and expressed his support. “Our role is to support our partners in this initiative to strengthen it,” he said. “The statistics on HIV/AIDS show that we still have a lot to do. It is our responsibility to develop strategies to facilitate positive efforts like the present undertaken by UNICEF.” He also asked the adolescent mappers to take measures to protect themselves against HIV.
Rhazi Koné, a member of UNICEF's social and civic media team, directed the training sessions. “UNICEF has, in recent years, introduced an equity-focused use of digital tools to communicate, engage and build the capacity of vulnerable youth in several countries. This is indeed a new and exciting approach to youth communication, advocacy and community development,” he said. “It promotes dialogue between communities as well as governments and organizations to create a more child-friendly environment.”
One 16-year old participant, Dominique Billy Costacurta, could not hide his excitement about the prospect of learning and sharing knowledge about HIV prevention. “I will take advantage of this opportunity to inform other young people in my neighborhood about the risk of getting HIV and AIDS,” he said.