UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Alessio Boni visits HIV/AIDS projects in Mozambique
By Thierry Delvigne-Jean
Maputo (Mozambique) 22 January 2006 – On his first visit as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Italian actor Alessio Boni visited Mozambique last week to see first hand the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on children in this East African country.
The visit was organized by the Italian National Committee for UNICEF as part of the global campaign UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS, which aims to put children at the centre of the response to the AIDS pandemic and proposes concrete solutions to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. The campaign was launched last November in Mozambique.
During his week-long trip, Mr Boni had the opportunity to see key areas of intervention that can make a real difference in the lives of millions of children affected by the disease: prevention of new infections among young people, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, paediatric treatment for HIV positive children and care and support for orphans and vulnerable children.
In the capital Maputo, Mr. Boni was given a tour of the paediatric ward of the main hospital, where about 450 HIV-positive children are receiving treatment. The hospital is a leading centre in paediatric care for children living with the virus, and children from all over the area come here to receive life-saving treatment. Dr. Paula Vaz, the Director of the clinic, explained to Mr. Boni that this was a tiny fraction of the 91,000 children in the country who live with HIV. In Mozambique, less than 2 per cent of all HIV positive children currently have access to treatment.
The journey also brought the young actor to Beira, the second largest city in the country, and the hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic. The city has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the country. More than 30 per cent of the population live with the virus.
In Beira, Mr Boni was particularly impressed by the dedication of health workers caring for people living with HIV in spite of the poor health infrastructures and limited resources.
“I’m amazed at the courage and the strength of these people,” he said, following a visit to a maternity ward in the outskirt of the city, where pregnant women are receiving treatment and services to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies during pregnancy, at birth or through breastfeeding. Here too, the needs are immense, observed Mr. Boni. This year alone, close to 140,000 HIV positive women will become pregnant in Mozambique.
“Where I come from, most people think about themselves first,” explained the actor. “They think about how they can make more money, how they can get new things or about the latest trend. The people I’ve met here are determined to find more money and more resources not for themselves but for others. This is a big lesson for me.”
During a particularly moving visit to Colegio Infantil, a transit centre for children who have been orphaned by AIDS, Mr Boni witnessed the harsh reality for children who have lost both their parents to the disease. Most of the children who are brought to the centre are HIV positive. The centre offers treatment, care and support in placing the children with relatives or reintegrating them into foster families
“This visit has changed the way I think about HIV/AIDS,” said Boni shortly after visiting the centre. “In Italy, AIDS no longer kills; it has become a chronic disease. But for most people here, AIDS is a death sentence.”
But hope was also plenty along the way. And nowhere more visible than among the thousands of young people who have formed into groups across the country to inform their peers about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and educate them about ways to protect against the disease.
The projects range from mobile units that travel to remote communities to project movies about HIV/AIDS prevention to radio programmes produced by and for children. In one of the most surprising moments of his visit, a group of young peer educators even performed an impromptu skit about the dangers facing young women.
At the end of his journey, it was clear that the actor was struggling to take it all in, but he was already thinking about what to do on his return to Italy.
“I’ll need some time to digest and reflect on everything I’ve seen here,” he said pensively. “But when I go back, my message will be that we can make a difference. It is possible to change the course of the disease. It will be a message of hope.”
Mozambique is located in the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic. More than one million children are directly affected by the pandemic. They are either living with the virus themselves, have lost one or both parents or are caring for family members suffering from AIDS-related diseases. To learn more about the situation in the country and the work of UNICEF, visit the UNICEF Mozambique web site at www.unicef.org/mozambique.