Abidjan, April 2, 2003 - Nearly two thousand school children turned out in their Sunday best for sing-songs, poetry, stand-up plays and comic relief to launch a major HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in the occupied zone of northern Cote d'Ivoire at the weekend. The 1,850 school children who took part in the opening ceremony at the Chateau d'Ahougnanssou School, Bouake, are the spearhead of the Unicef-assisted campaign that will reach 50,000 learners in the district with life-saving and peer-support messages.
The HIV/AIDS drive in the north is led by «Moulikat », a consortium of NGOs named after a young AIDS sufferer who died recently. She was the first young person in the district to openly admit she was sero-positive. Her death was a great shock among her peers and her voice is being carried forward by another young woman Marthe, who said she decided to come out when she learnt of Moulikat's death. « No one should be ashamed of being HIV positive. One can live a full life. Just be careful », Marthe told the students at the opening ceremony.
In addition, Moulikat, with UNICEF support, is taking care of 7,500 orphans and other vulnerable children in Bouake.
The campaign, especially the peer support activities, is also backed by the local authorities of the occupied zone in the north who recently signed a peace agreement with the government of President Laurent Gbagbo to participate in a government of national unity. Moulikat is also preoccupied with the sort of an unspecified number of children who carry arms alongside soldiers in the civil war. Spokesperson of the local authorities who assisted at the event told the students that all child soldiers will be demobilized and they will join their peers back at school and in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In a recent meeting with Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, Representative Georgette Aithnard voiced Unicef's preoccupation about an unknown but growing numbers of child soldiers involved in the conflict. She explained the delicate steps being pursued by Unicef, child protection NGO partners and the local authorities in Bouake to have the children demobilized and back to school. The Prime Minister thanked Unicef for bringing to his attention the involvement of child soldiers in the conflict - a tragic development that, he said, he hadn't been aware of but on which he would urgently follow-up.
Unicef's support to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Cote d'Ivoire covers four main strategic areas: i. prevention of the transmission of HIV from mother to child (PTMC); ii. development of communication tools for behaviour change measures among primary school children (6-11 year olds); iii. mobilization of young adult and adolescent groups for peer support awareness campaigns; and iv. promotion of support systems for orphans and other vulnerable children, including those living with HIV/AIDS.
* * *
For further information please contact:.
Patricia Dailly Ajavon, Tel: Abidjan: 20208153 & 20208110