Sudanese Youth Fight to Stem AIDS
As part of a campaign by the Sudanese government and UNICEF, a group of young AIDS orphans in Juba is speaking publicly about HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention. The government's focus on Juba seems in part due to an expected population influx in the city pending a peace accord to end Sudan's 21-year civil war between the Islamic government and rebels in the south. Health Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said the city's population could surge from the current 350,000 to 1 million. "Most of them will be coming from neighboring countries with a high percentage of HIV/AIDS. The war in the bush is coming to an end, but we will have to lead a new war against this disease," Osman said.
Just two years ago, AIDS was a taboo subject in this area of southern Sudan. Many people were ignorant about how the disease is transmitted and believed that anyone who came in contact with an infected person would also fall ill. Thus, HIV-infected people often kept their illness a secret. According to the Health Ministry, about 2 percent of Sudan's population of 33 million, or 660,000 people, have HIV/AIDS.
Experts note that in addition to Sudan's proximity to AIDS-stricken countries, poor hygiene and general lack of knowledge about the disease increase the nation's risks. Emmanuel Amoko, who lost his father to AIDS, said he must mention simple things like not sharing razor blades as well as sexual transmission routes when he speaks to young people about HIV/AIDS.
UNICEF will continue its support of AIDS prevention efforts aimed at Sudanese youth, said Joanna Van Gerpen, the organization's representative to Sudan. "What is encouraging in all this is that the people of Juba have taken this bold step to invite other counterparts and partners to help them tackle the HIV/AIDS challenges," said Van Gerpen.
In January, Sudan opened its first free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling center in Juba, sponsored by the government and UN agencies.