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Worldwide, the number of people newly infected by HIV continues to fall, in 2011 the number of people was 20% lower than in 2001, yet HIV and AIDS remains one of the most serious health challenges we face in the world today. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry the burden of the epidemic with 69% of all people living with HIV from the region, which includes many countries where ChildFund works.

“In Ethiopia, where nearly 800,000 people are living with HIV, ChildFund is helping to reduce the prevalence of HIV by educating young people and their families on how to protect themselves, encouraging testing and counselling, and also reducing the stigma around the disease,” says Rouena Getigan, international program coordinator at ChildFund Australia.

In the Sodo Buee area, a community which has been supported by ChildFund for the past 16 years, the prevalence of HIV and AIDS is nearly 2%. Early marriage, gender-based violence and a lack of awareness about reproductive health issues are aggravating the spread of HIV, with youth most at risk. Also increasing is the number of orphans and vulnerable children in the area, with over 1,000 orphans in the community.

To help combat the spread of HIV among young people, ChildFund with funding from the Australian Government has supported the construction of a youth-friendly reproductive health (YFRH) centre in Sodo Buee.

The centre is the first of its kind in the area and was built to reduce the stigma felt by young men and women when utilising health services. This youth-friendly multi-purpose centre has various features including HIV and AIDS counselling and testing, recreation space and educational services. This building also means that young people are no longer forced to share the same health facilities as adults at the nearby Buee Health Centre.

Young people who come to the centre are able to check their health status related to HIV whilst also enjoying the games, café and library at the centre. Youths from other districts have also started to use the services of the centre.

Bedilu, a young woman who attends the YFRH centre, says: “In the area there was a high rate of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion among young females and a lack of awareness on reproductive health services before the centre was constructed. Now the services are available and the problems are gradually getting better.”

ChildFund has trained over 40 peer educators from nine schools who are using music, drama and sport competitions to raise awareness of reproductive health issues and HIV €“ more than 100 youths have come to the YFRH centre after being referred by one of our peer educators. Thousands of youth-focused leaflets, 200 posters and 10 billboards are also being used to reach young people.

Since July, ChildFund has also conducted 18 community awareness sessions with a focus on important issues such as the need for HIV testing before marriage, prevention of early marriage, and care and support for children and adults living with HIV and AIDs.

While Ethiopia has seen a decline of more than 25% in new HIV infections in recent years, it remains a country severely affected by the epidemic. ChildFund is working with the government and local communities to help Ethiopia get to zero.

World AIDS Day, held on 1 December each year, is recognised and observed by millions of people around the world. This year`s theme is Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths. Learn about the progress being made here.

The international 2013 ChildFund Connect Family Film Festival has launched this week, involving young filmmakers from Australia and around the world.

More than 700 children from Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, Laos, Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka and Vietnam submitted films for the festival, exploring the theme of ‘family’ and the role it plays in their lives. Over the next few weeks, film festival events will be held in all seven countries with the participation of the children, their families and communities.

Students from Barraba and Manilla, in northern NSW, attended a screening at their local theatre this week. “It`s great for the kids, especially in a small town, to become more aware of not just their country but other countries overseas, and how they live and their customs and traditions as well,” teacher Amy Berriman from Manilla Central Public School told Prime7 News in Tamworth.

The young filmmakers were involved in every part of the production process, from scripting to storyboarding, acting and editing. From over 100 short films produced by the children, 25 semi-finalists were selected and, of those, 12 finalists are being screened at the events. Children will vote on these 12 films in the categories of Best Story, Best Acting and Best Film Technique.

The Family Film Festival is part of ChildFund Connect, a global education program that uses multimedia technology to help Australian children connect and learn with their peers in developing countries.

Children created films on a wide range of topics ranging from the light-hearted, such as the tale of a dinosaur who can`t find his family €“ to hard-hitting subjects including family migration, domestic violence and alcohol abuse.

Kelly Royds, ChildFund Connect program coordinator, says: “I was really impressed by how well the children have received the films, especially on the more challenging subjects. The kids really understood and engaged with the topics €“ they acknowledged that these sorts of things happen everywhere and saw the moral lessons in the films. I was also struck by how parents and teachers received the films and saw huge potential to use them as stimuli for class discussions about family and culture around the world.”

Kelly adds that the films complemented what the children had learned from earlier ChildFund Connect activities, where they exchanged videos with their overseas partner groups about their favourite foods, games and other subjects of interest to them. Children have expressed a greater understanding about family and culture in other countries after seeing this year`s films, and showed a real sensitivity to the differences they were seeing.

“For example, they were sensitive to the spiritual undertones in some of the films, in particular, the Lao story of two girls who see a ghost and lose their spirits, and also the two films from Timor-Leste that depict parents falling ill when their children do not show them respect. It’s been a really amazing and touching experience to see the kids and parents respond to the films in this way.”

The ChildFund Connect program is supported by Australian Aid.