Mozambique

UNICEF Ireland Goodwill Ambassador Liam Neeson travels to Mozambique

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© UNICEF Ireland/2005/ Doyle
Mr. Neeson holds twin brothers during his visit to the Colegio Infantil in Beira.

By UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Maura Quinn

BEIRA, Mozambique, 1 September 2005 – Long-standing UNICEF Ireland Goodwill Ambassador Liam Neeson has just returned from his first field visit to Mozambique. He visited Beira, the country’s second largest city, which has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the country.

Mr. Neeson’s first stop on his field visit was the UNICEF-funded Munhava Health Centre in Beira to see UNICEF’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme.

He also spoke with three women who had just found out their HIV test results were positive, and were now planning on participating in the programme.

The programme includes counselling and HIV testing for pregnant women and administration of the anti-retro-viral drug Nevirapine before delivery – and to the baby after birth.

“I cannot imagine how difficult it is for these women to know that they are HIV positive…the bravery it has required of them to be tested…in a society where there is still considerable stigma about HIV/AIDS,” said Neeson. “They are doing this to ensure that their unborn babies have a chance of survival, a chance to be born free of the virus.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ireland/2005/ Doyle
Mr. Neeson visits the Munhava Health Centre in Beira, where he watched procedures which aim to strengthen screening, treatment and follow up of malnourished children and children living with HIV/AIDS.

A children’s hospital

Children born with HIV/AIDS have a very limited life expectancy in Mozambique. Half of them die during their first year of life, and the 50 per cent of those who do survive, do not survive until their second birthday.

Mr. Neeson later visited Beira’s Central Hospital to learn more about the treatment that UNICEF helps provide for children living with HIV/AIDS – as well as severe malnutrition, a serious side affect of the disease. 

“I have seen pictures and images of hungry and sick children before. Nothing prepares you for the reality. In many cases there were three children and their mothers to a bed, some of the children crying in pain and hunger, others too sick to move,” said Mr. Neeson.

‘Khulupira’!

Mr. Neeson also visited a primary school where young children participate in HIV/AIDS awareness activities funded by UNICEF.

These programmes are run by a group of young people who are living with HIV/AIDS called ‘Khulupira’, which means ‘Wake Up’ in the local language.

With the support of UNICEF, Khulupira has been implementing a school awareness programme on HIV/AIDS since 2002. By the end of 2004 the project had reached almost 23,000 school children.

“It seems awful that 12-year-old children need to learn about HIV/AIDS, but this is a lesson that saves their lives,” said Mr. Neeson after the school visit.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ireland/2005/ Doyle
Mr. Neeson holds a tiny HIV-positive baby at the Colegio Infantil in Beira.

The Khulupira organization also provides home-based care and support to both children orphaned by AIDS and those living with the disease. The organization has a system for identification, monitoring and counselling families with orphaned children.

Mr. Neeson accompanied Khulupira activists on home visits to four households to meet children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Protecting and caring for children

One of the most moving moments of the trip came when Mr. Neeson visited ‘Colegio Infantil’ – the only centre in Mozambique which provides temporary shelter to abused, abandoned and orphaned children.

It houses up to 50 children at a time and helps them integrate into their extended families or foster homes. The majority of children are between zero and five years old…and some are HIV positive themselves.

“Forget the statistics…we have to do more. You cannot look these children in the eye and see how desperate is their situation without wanting to help,” said Mr. Neeson, after visiting with four babies in the nursery – two of whom are HIV-positive. 

Mr. Neeson stressed he wanted his visit to Mozambique to draw attention to the forgotten plight of children, who are bearing the brunt of the AIDS pandemic.

“Young people were once considered relatively safe from HIV/AIDS,” said Mr. Neeson. “Today, their lives and futures are at risk throughout the world because of this disease. I believe it is young people throughout the world who offer us the greatest hope for defeating this deadly pandemic.”


 

 

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