Friday, November 21, 2008

HIV/AIDS contexts during the Pilgimage

One of the major issues that President Sinkford and his companions have been in dialogue about during the Pilgrimage is the various responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the countries we’ve visited. This morning we are on our way to Odumase in the Eastern Region of Ghana where the Manya Krobo people live. Since 2005 the UU United Nations Office has had a partnership with one of the schools for children who have been orphaned by the death of their parents from AIDS. While the transmission rates of HIV in Ghana are generally quite low as compared to other African countries (less than 2%) the rates in the Eastern region are considerably higher (9% down from a high of 19%), leading to a larger number of orphaned children in this area.

Millenium Development Goals Posters at UNICEF in Accra

Driving around Accra and towards Odumase the advertising campaigns are commonly along the roadside. The most frequent themes are “AIDS is Real and Kills” and “Use condoms to protect yourself and prevent transmission”, as well as the frequent abstinence messages

Examples of advertisements

Yesterday we met with leaders of 3 organizations involved in HIV/AIDS work in Ghana: the UN Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, and the Ghana AIDS Commission – which is the central governmental agency responding to the epidemic in Ghana. During these meetings we learned a great deal about prevention strategies and the context in which strategies are implemented.

HIV/AIDS discussion at UNICEF in Accra

For example, while the official Ghanaian operating philosophy is ABC (Abstinence, Being Faithful, and Condomizing), the school system (which approximately 70% of children participate in) teaches abstinence-only as a prevention strategy. However transmission and other information about HIV/AIDS is integrated into all aspects of the Curriculum (Mathematics, Science, etc.) through the ALERT program – which is organized by UNICEF. The decision to only include Abstinence as a preventive strategy in the school curriculum is due to cultural and religious constraints – not unlike those experienced in the United States. The Ghana AIDS Commission assured us that the “Being Faithful” and “Comdomizing” pieces of the philosophy are taught through community outreach, and particularly through peer education programs – realizing that young people listen to young people more effectively than to adults.

Discussion with Ghana AIDS Commission

Discussion with Ghana AIDS Commission

We recall that the HIV/AIDS work led by leaders of The Triangle Project in Cape Town was often constrained to the ABC philosophy by donors, though they sought to assist school teachers with additional fact-based HIV information/strategies and are grateful for donors who don’t place constraints. In Uganda, Rev. Mark Kiyimba is planning to build the capacity of an HIV/AIDS education strategy that is not limited by either Abstinence-only or the ABC philosophy. Please contact the UUA's International Resources Office for additional information. The UU-UNO’s partner in Odumase – the Queen Mother’s Association – helps to assure that HIV/AIDS orphans are cared for by families in the community. We were told that this is a deeply traditional practice.

The Ghana AIDS commission described the importance of the school in Odumase – which certainly applies to similar schools in countries throughout Africa – as a way to prevent HIV/AIDS from creating a generation of children who haven’t been socialized and are not integrated into the community. This key aspect of this HIV/AIDS response is over and above the central importance of providing children with an education – which is a basic human right as well as a key strategy for personal development and the general alleviation of poverty.

The UU-UNO’s “Every Child is Our Child” partnership offers a straightforward way for American UUs to do something effective in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.