UNICEF and UNAIDS Special representative for Children and AIDS, Princess Mathilde, and Dr. Piot visit Senegal and shine a spotlight on youth leadership.
Dakar, 6-7 December 2008 - In a joint mission to Senegal, Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot were active participants in this years 15th International Conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa (ICASA). While in Senegal, Princess Mathilde emphasized the role of youth leadership as a key factor in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis.
The ICASA conference provided an opportunity for young people to be engaged and to have their message heard. In her opening statement at a session on youth leadership, Princess Mathilde spoke of the importance of young people playing a larger role in HIV programmes and services, and the increasing need for them to act as role models to raise greater awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Beyond the halls of the ICASA conference, Princess Mathilde and Dr. Piot visited UNICEF sponsored projects to learn about local programmes that provide HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services, in particular for women, children and adolescents. Senegal is one of the low prevalence countries in Africa, with an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 0.7 % according to the DHS survey (2005). Efforts are made to keep this rate low and to sensitize the population about the risks of HIV/AIDS.
At Roi Baudouin, a district hospital in the outskirts of Dakar, Princess Mathilde met with staff and patients. After meeting a young orphan boy she remarked: “I am touched by the courage of this orphan whose parents have both died from AIDS and am in great admiration of those grandparents who raise their grandchildren while trying to earn a living.”
Later that day, they visited a youth counselling centre where Princess Mathilde and Dr. Piot took part in a group discussion with adolescents on how they raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in their community. Throughout her visit, Princess Mathilde met with young girls and spoke of the need for more attention to be placed on girls and young women when addressing HIV/AIDS. “They are particularly vulnerable and it is more important than ever to invest in girls’ education and empowering women.”
Senegal is confronted by the problem of street children, an estimated 7600 in Dakar alone, who are increasingly vulnerable to HIV and STIs. During her final day, Princess Mathilde met face-to-face with street children who walk the streets during the day and are in great danger once night falls. At Samu Social, a partner of UNICEF, she learned about their unique programme that provides first aid, counselling, a hot meal and teaches young children about the dangers of STIs and HIV.
Princess Mathilde was appointed UNICEF and UNAIDS Special Representative for Children and AIDS in May 2005.