Local Organizations Contribute to U.S. AIDS Relief
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington – Steadily increasing the delivery of care and treatment to people with HIV/AIDS is a key objective of U.S. assistance to nations battling the epidemic, but building the involvement, talents and skills of grassroots organizations to sustain the long-term campaign against the disease is another goal.
“[A]t least one quarter of our resources go to capacity-building in the public and private health sectors - physical infrastructure, training and support for work force,” said Global AIDS Coordinator (GAC) Dr. Mark Dybul in recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And 80 percent of our partners are local organizations, which support more than 15,000 project sites for prevention, treatment and care.”
Audiences in Toronto and Washington met a few partners working on projects in Kenya via a digital videoconference August 8 arranged by the Office of the GAC.
Kenya is a target nation receiving special assistance under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which helps 120 nations worldwide. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Kenya’s adult population stands at 6 percent, which represents about 1.2 million persons living with the virus and its consequences. The current national prevalence rate is a marked improvement from a high around 12 percent some years ago, according to a leading U.S. official working in Nairobi, Kenya, but some provinces still cope with extreme epidemics.
“[P]arts of Kenya - particularly Nyanza Province on the shores of Lake Victoria - prevalence rates exceeding 30 or even 40 percent are more like South Africa or Zambia,” said Warren “Buck” Buckingham, the country coordinator for PEPFAR, participating in the videoconference from Nairobi.
PEPFAR has enabled local people concerned about the epidemic to establish contacts, mobilize, organize and begin to help others, according to Buckingham. He introduced Elsa Ouko, the founder of KENEPOTE, the Kenya Network of [HIV] Positive Teachers, as one of those people.
Ouko said that HIV-positive teachers, as a group, were being stigmatized and discriminated against because of their disease, denied promotions and opportunities by administrators, who thought the teachers faced an early death. She recalled colleagues who were so weakened by AIDS that friends carried them in wheelbarrows to receive treatment when it became available through PEPFAR.
“The impact has been tremendous,” said Ouko, who described colleagues who have regained their health, are teaching again and even pursuing advanced degrees. “We are alive, and powerful, beautiful, very happy and a big fan to PEPFAR.”
PREVENTION AT THE GRASS ROOTS
There is a broad consensus among AIDS experts that prevention of further infections is the best strategy to stop the epidemic from exploding in the future. The United States is supporting prevention with a variety of approaches in Kenya, including blood and injection safety, prevention of mother-to-child infection and of transmission through intravenous drug injections.
The 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIVAIDS (UNAIDS) says that effective prevention programs are likely to reduce by half the number of new infections that will occur by 2015.
The report also finds that prevention programs in many nations are failing to reach young people who need information. One survey of 18 nations finds that fewer than 50 percent of young people have access to prevention services to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection.
Alice Wambugu is involved with a Kenyan youth information campaign known as NimeChill.
“It’s a simple slang word that Kenyan youth use,” Wambugu explained to the videoconference audience. “Chilling is basically abstaining.”
Nime Chill began as a mass media campaign, and is now working in 1,000 schools, Wambugu said, trying “to delay the sexual debut among urban and periurban youth by changing their social norms, reducing peer pressure and making abstinence look cool, smart and responsible.”
HIV prevention messages are delivered to younger Kenyans by the Girl Guide Rangers. PEPFAR is supporting a $200,000 program for training girl guides - 14-18-years-old - to be peer educators, encouraging youngsters to choose abstinence. Millicent Achieng, a Girl Guide Ranger, says the counseling encourages young girls to focus on schoolwork.
“I think when you delay the sexual debut until you get married, you’re able to concentrate on one area and that is academics,” said Achieng.
In Kenya and many other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, ensuring that girls are educated and have a path to opportunity is another strategy to help lift women from poverty, elevate their social position, reduce their subservience and thus protect them from HIV infection. More than 60 percent of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya are women, according to the 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic compiled by the U.N. AIDS agency.
The amount the United States is investing in AIDS relief activities in Kenya climbed from $34 million in 2003 to $208 million this year, said Buckingham. Treatment programs have expanded to include 75,000 Kenyans.
“I’m a happy grandmother who was supposed to die three years ago,” said Ouko, “but I’m living.”