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News note

Zimbabwe: In fight against HIV, youth hold the key

HARARE, 16 February– As the UN Children’s Fund launched another youth project in Zimbabwe, it again stressed that young people are the solution to further reducing the HIV rate in the country.

The calls came as UNICEF launched another Young People We Care (YPWC) project, this one in Mashonaland West. Under the YPWC project, Zimbabwean youths work with UNICEF’s home based care facilitators on their visits to HIV affected households. While the care facilitators provide primary care to the ill, youths carry out household chores and provide psychosocial support to their peers who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS. There are now more than 7,000 YPWC volunteers in Zimbabwe.

The launch comes at a time when Zimbabwe is grappling with the world’s fifth highest HIV prevalence and ever increasing numbers of orphans. However it also comes as there are signs of hope in the country.

Zimbabwe is the first high prevalence country in Southern Africa to record a significant decline in HIV sero-prevalence (from 24.6 percent in 2003 to 20.1 percent in 2005). A recent epidemiological review by UNAIDS concluded that the decline was partly due lower rates of new infections among young people. UNICEF maintains that for the decline to continue, youth must be supported.

Commenting on the launch, UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe said: “Whether HIV/AIDS increases or decreases in Zimbabwe largely depends on our actions, and results, with youth. Prevention is the way forward, and in youth we have a large percentage of Zimbabwe’s population where we can trigger a process of self-protection.”

The YPWC project, seeks to socialize young people to be involved in the secondary care of the terminally ill, while proactively engaging them in activities that will reduce further transmission among their peers.

Recent published research from Zimbabwe has shown that participation by young people in local community groups is often positively associated with successful avoidance of HIV. Youth are empowered to confront the realities of HIV in their own lives and their communities and to confront the accompanying barriers of stigma, denial, and ignorance, while simultaneously serving as a resource to people in their communities who are living with HIV and AIDS.

Speaking at the launch of the YPWC in Karoi, the Executive Director of Batsirai, a UNICEF-supported Community Based Organisation, said that the project was an effective prevention tool: “These volunteers see the reality of HIV and AIDS,” said Mr Gapare. “They enter the homes of HIV-positive people, they see their hardships and they help. In doing so they are also warned about the dangers of unsafe sex and AIDS.”

With additional support, UNICEF is eager to expand the YPWC initiative nationally. “UNICEF has great belief in youth and what they offer,” said Dr Kavishe. “Informed, innovative and industrious youth are absolutely critical to Zimbabwe’s future. Prepare them now in the fight against HIV/AIDS and we may watch as Zimbabwe reaches its real potential. Ignore them and so much of the current work here will be undone.”


For further information, please contact:
James Elder
UNICEF Zimbabwe Communication Officer
Tel (+263) 091 276120




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