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At a glance: Djibouti

UNICEF helps to raise HIV awareness along the Ethiopia-Djibouti transport corridor

© UNICEF/2010/Indreiten
Young men and boys playing babyfoot, a.k.a. table football, near a centre for HIV awareness in PK 12 neighbourhood on the outskirts of Djibouti Ville, Djibouti.

By Najwa Mekki

DJIBOUTI VILLE, Djibouti, 6 July 2010 – In the scorching heat of a June morning, boys and young men from the PK 12 neighbourhood, on the outskirts of Djibouti Ville, are gathered in front of a large container competing in a game of babyfoot, a.k.a. table football.

Across the street, dozens of trucks are parked at the PK 12 road station, waiting for their papers to be processed before resuming the journey to Ethiopia.

PK 12, whose name refers to the distance separating it from the capital Djibouti, is home to some 25,000 people. It is a passage obligé for the 700 to 800 trucks that travel the corridor between Djibouti and Ethiopia every day.

Countering HIV infection

The daily presence of truckers and their significant purchasing power, here in one of Djibouti’s most vulnerable communities, has made risky behaviours more common. Among them: chewing the mild narcotic known as khat and trading in drugs and prostitution.

© UNICEF 2010/Mekki
The PK 12 neighbourhood is home to one of the most vulnerable communities in Djibouti.

In this country of around 850,000 people, HIV has reached epidemic levels. An estimated 16,000 people currently live with the virus, more than half of them, or nearly 9,000, are women, and over 1,000 are children.

Among young people in Djibouti, only half of the males and a quarter of the females aged 15 to 24 say they used condoms during their latest instance of higher-risk intercourse.

Counselling and recreation

To raise HIV awareness among young people in PK 12, UNICEF is working with partners USAID and Family Health International to provide counselling and recreational activities.

As part of this effort, container has been converted into a centre where both the truck drivers and young people from the community can learn about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

“We reach out to young people here to teach them how they can protect themselves, through puppet theater, films and interactive activities,” says Filsan Abdi Osman, Programme Assistant at Family Health International. “We also reach out to the truck drivers to tell them where to go for voluntary HIV testing and treatment.” 

In 2009, with UNICEF’s support, some 48,000 people benefited from services provided at the centre.

Educating women and youth

But some people – particularly young women – are still reluctant to know their HIV status because of the strong stigma attached to the virus. That’s why the centre has solicited the support of peer educators from the community who can help reach out to other young people.

Said Abdo Ali, 22, is one such educator. Unemployed, like almost half of the population of Djibouti, he volunteered to help his peers know about the risks of unhealthy behaviours.

Said works with a group of young boys who are out of school, organizing awareness-raising sessions for them and screening documentaries about HIV risks and prevention methods.

“I also organize chats with the young so that we can openly discuss these issues, and I take them on guided tours of the health centre where HIV testing services and treatment are provided,” he says.

Three years after his volunteer experience began, and despite the lack of financial incentives, Said’s engagement with members of his community has not wavered.



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