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, cafÃ© 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.