Prevention and control
Compared with other regions in Africa, public awareness of HIV/AIDS is relatively low in Somalia, and the available information on HIV prevalence and risk behaviours has been limited, leaving communities vulnerable to the virus through lack of information.
Today, UNICEF and other non-governmental organizations are working to bring awareness into communities, and the situation may improve over time. In northwest Somalia, individuals and couples who have publicly disclosed their HIV-status have represented a significant step forward in "breaking the silence" about the pandemic. The commitment of such individuals to raising HIV/AIDS awareness is significant in supporting advocacy efforts.
Through this project, religious leaders and elders, women, youth groups, and secondary school students and teachers are all receiving HIV/AIDS education. This includes how to prevent the virus, sensitivity training for working with HIV/AIDS infected people, and knowledge about how the virus is transmitted. Information-Education-Communication (IEC) materials have been developed, pre-tested and distributed to support these efforts.
Thirteen pilot sites (also known as sentinel sites) for diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) have been set up in Northwest, Northeast and Central and Southern Somalia in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Somalia Aid Coordination Body (SACB) HIV/AIDS Working Group. WHO and UNICEF support the distribution of kits and drugs to the sentinel sites. An information package that was developed and translated into Somali has been distributed. Counseling skills training has been carried out for health workers at the sentinel sites by the Kenya Association for Professional Counselors (KAPC).
Youth participation leads to more awareness
Somalia’s youth are the most vulnerable group affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. To encourage young people to become involved in addressing the issue, a "Youth and HIV/AIDS" seminar was conducted in late 2001 with local authorities in the northern regions. Presentations and deliberations focused on regional and local implications of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV/AIDS, their impact on youth, modes of STI and HIV transmission, and means of control and prevention. There were also discussions about how teens and children could become agents of change within communities.
Following the seminar, a Somali Youth and HIV/AIDS Coordinating Body was established to support community awareness and social mobilization activities, set up a network of youth, and promote community participation, information sharing and exchange of best practices. In addition, the group has developed a quarterly newsletter called "KOOR" (named after the Somali camel bell) to provide further information to communities.
In 2003, UNICEF was involved in the development of, and is currently implementing the strategic framework for controlling and reducing STIs and for mobilizing resources for HIV-AIDS programmes and services in Somalia. This was coordinated by the SACB HIV/AIDS Working Group co-chaired by UNICEF and WHO.
UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS programme prioritizes controlling STIs as a start, and draws on the findings of a 1999 knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) survey that indicate a 30 per cent prevalence rate of STIs among women attending antenatal clinics. More than 345 doctors and midwives were trained in managing STI symptoms in 2001.