Local champion helps UNICEF halt spread of HIV in conflict-torn S. Kordofan
© UNICEF Sudan/2012
Zeinab Eltom in South Kordofan.
Kadugli, February 2012 – Soft-spoken and understated, Zeinab Eltom is not the sort of person you would immediately connect with the daunting task of bringing vital life skills to thousands of children in a State stricken with armed conflict.
But the 56-year-old school health coordinator of the border state of South Kordofan, where fighting broke out on 6 June 2011, has emerged as a tireless campaigner in UNICEF’s efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS through the delivery of a life skills-based school curriculum.
Since July 2011, over 22,000 students have directly benefited from her efforts to ensure that the HIV/AIDS curriculum is delivered in spite of the upheaval and disruption going on in the state.
According to the latest UN Sudan Humanitarian Update, conflict in South Kordofan and its neighbouring state of Blue Nile has internally displaced or severely affected 366,000 people while 109,000 others have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia.
South Kordofan has long been a focus area for UNICEF because of its proximity to South Sudan with its high-prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The current high presence of military personnel and the influx of internally-displaced people are among factors that have made the region more susceptible to the infection.
“I asked to be assigned the task of supervising UNICEF-supported activities and investigated on the ground what were the issues affecting implementation,” she says. One of the key challenges was that as a result of the conflict the delivery of basic services and flow of information had become much more difficult. Also, no new teacher had undergone training since June 2011.
To overcome this, Ms. Eltom conducted a series of advocacy and orientation meetings at the locality levels and with health ministry representatives to convey the importance of the HIV/AIDS curriculum and how it tackles the issue in a largely conservative society like Sudan. Her efforts paid off, ensuring a better of the issues among field staff.
“I managed to convince the locality administration to issue a financial ratification to support the school health coordinator,” Ms. Eltom proudly says. She also redistributed trained teachers to reach more students.
With her drive and commitment, Ms. Eltom has emerged as a local champion in the global fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. But UNICEF and partners have an uphill task ahead. With 0.67 per cent HIV prevalence, Sudan is described as a low epidemic country. But among most-at-risk populations such as men who have sex with men and sex-workers it has a much higher prevalence rate. Reaching the one million school-going children with accurate knowledge about HIV/AIDS prevention has been identified as the most effective measure to halt the spread.
So far, some 31 per cent of teachers have received training with funds from the Global Funds for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that ends in June 2012. Alternative funding mechanisms need to be found to meet the gaps and make up for the increased vulnerability caused by the on-going conflicts in different parts of the country.
(With inputs by Elfatih Abdelraheem, Priyanka Khanna and Zeinab Faroug)