Tag Archives: AIDS

Children draw and colour in the playground at Battambang Provincial Hospital. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini

Want to innovate paediatric care in Cambodia? Set up a playground in a hospital

Children draw and colour in the playground at Battambang Provincial Hospital. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini

Children draw and colour in the playground at Battambang Provincial Hospital. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini

A first-time initiative in Cambodia – “Playgrounds in Hospitals” is helping health care providers, parents and sick children have a better experience during treatment. I spoke with Sedtha Chin, HIV/AIDS Specialist at UNICEF Cambodia, who led this innovative project, to learn more.

Q: In a nutshell, what is the “Playgrounds in Hospitals” project?
Sedtha: The project is about introducing playgrounds into the paediatric ward of Cambodian hospitals to benefit hospitalized children; children with HIV going in for their monthly treatment; hospital staff; and parents. Playgrounds are equipped with toys and books for children and adults to read. The idea is to create an environment where children enjoy themselves and learn while waiting to be treated; healthcare providers are under less pressure because children are not crying to go home; and it’s easier for parents to keep their children waiting.

Playground facilitator Sngiem Sokha tells a story with kamishibai, a Japanese story-box theatre, in the playground at Battambang Provincial Hospital, Cambodia. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini

Playground facilitator Sngiem Sokha tells a story with kamishibai, a Japanese story-box theatre, in the playground at Battambang Provincial Hospital, Cambodia. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini

Q: How did it all start?
Sedtha: In 2007 I worked mostly in hospitals across Cambodia, in their Pediatric Health Care Units. When I travelled the provinces [i.e. rural areas] I thought, “Why don’t we have something like a friendly place for children to enjoy, so that they are less stressed about being in a hospital?”

Often I would see them crying on their beds, looking depressed, just insisting on going home. No child wants to stay at the hospital, right? Then, one day I visited a pre-school and I saw they had a playground. So I thought, “I must try to do something similar in hospitals.”

A few weeks later, when I left the office, I saw a ‘mobile library’ car painted with children’s images and the SIPAR logo [a French-Cambodian NGO that promotes reading among children and youth]. The following day I got in touch with the organization’s director: I told him about my plan to set up a small library in a hospital. He told me that they have lots of experience setting up mobile libraries with schools [i.e. vans with books and a schedule to visit communities] but they had never set up a traditional library in a hospital. We were both eager to give it a go so we made a plan.

I went to talk to the director of the National Paediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh, the capital. He was very excited and said, “What a good idea! Why don’t we try it?” He was familiar with the concept of playgrounds in hospitals because he saw during his travels abroad. So we went for it: UNICEF provided the toys and furniture and SIPAR provided the books and trained two playground facilitators who would engage with children in activities such as storytelling and drawing.

The first evaluation based on interviews with parents, health care providers and parents gave us very positive results. The playground was benefiting hospitalized children, particularly in the Severe Malnutrition ward where it was set up, and children with HIV who were not hospitalized but went to the hospital periodically for their medicine. Both doctors and parents had a more pleasant treatment experience. So we decided to scale up to nine hospitals in the provinces, and three years later we’ve added another six hospitals. As of today, there are 17 playgrounds in paediatric wards in Cambodia – and we keep receiving requests for more.

Two boys reading one of the many books in the playground at Pailin Provincial Hospital, Pailin province, Cambodia. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini

Two boys read one of the many books in the playground at Pailin Provincial Hospital, Cambodia. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini

Q: Did something happen that you didn’t expect when you implemented this project?
Sedtha: I have seen that in some places, like in Prey Veng and Oudar Meanchey provinces, the hospital where we set up the playground is located near to the local primary school. The community knows that the playground has lots of books and toys to play with. So after school some children go to the playground to read and play. This is something I did not expect when we set this up! I am happy to see that this project is not just benefiting children inside and outside the hospitals, but also the whole community.

Q: What are the plans for the future?
Sedtha: Given the positive feedback, we are planning to continue expanding to bring playgrounds to more paediatric wards in Cambodia.

Q: What is the current situation in Cambodia when it comes to children and HIV/AIDS?
Sedtha: Cambodia has been at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is one of the few countries in the world to have successfully reversed its generalized HIV epidemic. The number of children on ART (antiretroviral therapy) has increased steadily, reaching over 80% of children affected by HIV/AIDS in 2014. Today HIV finger-prick testing is accessible at almost all health centers across the country.

Cambodia has done well in terms of providing treatment to children in need ART, however keeping children in ART remains a challenge, especially for children who live in remote areas. We work in close collaboration with the national government and other development partners to support the national HIV/AIDS response and will continue to play an important role to improve services and revise processes so to ensure children and women receive comprehensive services as required.

Martina Tomassini is a Communication Officer at UNICEF Cambodia.

© UNICEF Cuba/2013/García

Cuba: a milestone towards an AIDS-free generation

© UNICEF Cuba/2013/García

© UNICEF Cuba/2013/García

While a report issued on 25 June by the UNAIDS and Lancet Commission urgently calls for greater investments in HIV prevention to reduce new HIV infections and transmission, Cuba’s sustained efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission has brought the world positive news – the country has become the first to complete the formal validation process for the elimination of vertical transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis, a process led by PAHO/WHO and UNICEF.

This milestone is a great opportunity to pause and reflect on the whole process, to look back at everything that has been done to achieve this result, and to look forward at everything that remains to be done to achieve an AIDS-free generation.
 
So how has the situation evolved since 1986, the year in which the first HIV cases were diagnosed in Cuba? In the late 1980s, it was very unusual for HIV-positive women aware of their status to start a pregnancy. The mother-to-child transmission rate was above 40 per cent. Only one HIV test was carried out, during the first trimester of pregnancy. Preventive measures for HIV-positive mothers only included a C-section and the suspension of breastfeeding.
 
As knowledge improved, so did control and prevention measures. Nowadays, all Cuban pregnant women are tested for HIV three times, once per trimester of pregnancy. HIV-positive pregnant women have access to antiretroviral treatment, and their children receive prophylaxis and are tested for HIV during their first year of life. Thanks to these efforts in preventing, controlling and monitoring HIV, in recent years, pregnancies of HIV-positive women have increased, and the mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV has decreased to 1.85%, below the 2% target.
 
Yet, a milestone is not the end of the process. We still have a long way to go to achieve an AIDS-free world. In Cuba, as in many countries in the world, our big challenge is to improve people’s knowledge about HIV transmission.
 
Our work in Cuba focuses on supporting the country’s HIV prevention efforts and raising awareness about HIV among adolescents and young people, as evidence shows a low risk perception and risky sexual behaviours: around one-third of young people start their sexual life without protection, and about half of them consider that they do not have any chance of being infected with HIV[1]. Only 60.9 per cent of women and 58.6 per cent of men aged between 15 and 24 correctly identify two ways to prevent sexual transmission of HIV[2]. It is also necessary to keep fighting discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.
 
As a milestone has been reached, let’s take some time to praise the incredible advances that have taken place in the fight against HIV and AIDS since the 1980s. And then, let’s keep moving forward and working to eliminate the remaining obstacles on the path towards an AIDS-free generation.

Anna Lucia D’Emilio is UNICEF Representative in Cuba.

[1] National Office for Statistics and Information, Cuba.
[2] Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, Cuba, 2014.

 

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‘All In’ to end adolescent AIDS

Omar Abdi, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, with Elijah-Zachary Lemein Simel at the ALL IN event in Nairobi.

Omar Abdi, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, with Elijah-Zachary Lemein Simel at the ALL IN event in Nairobi. (c)UNICEF/2015/Natalie Bailey

11-year-old Elijah-Zachary Lemein Simel wants to be a “Reverend, an architect and a scientist” when he grows up. After spending some time with Elijah, I have every confidence that he will do all of this and more.

What makes Elijah’s dreams remarkable is neither their ambition nor their audacity, it’s that Elijah openly lives with HIV. He was infected as a baby through mother-to-child transmission. His mother tried hard to keep both of them healthy, but it was only once she began anti-retroviral treatment that she could dedicate herself fully to his well-being. Part of that was explaining to him his diagnosis in a way that he could both understand and accept.

For a long time, Elijah struggled with sickness and often missed school. When medicine was suggested, he said, “I was feeling afraid to take the medicine because I heard that when I start…I will have to go on it forever. And others tell me stories that when I start my medication, I will die. I was very afraid.”

With encouragement from his mother and his aunt, though, Elijah started anti-retroviral treatment and, soon after, felt healthy and strong.

This was just one of many hurdles he has had to overcome.

In school, Elijah was made to sit at the back of the classroom alone; students avoided touching him – and if they did, brushed themselves off.

“It was tough,” Elijah remembers. “My best friend called me ‘Virus’; we are not friends anymore.”

A turning point for Elijah came when he started a new school and met teacher Stanley Kyalo. Noticing that Elijah seemed stressed, teacher Stanley spoke with him and learned about his diagnosis and the stigma that haunted him. The two became fast friends. Teacher Stanley tackled the stigma head-on by teaching the class the facts about HIV. When the students understood about the illness, they were no longer afraid and they included Elijah in their games and activities.

But, Elijah noted, educating people is an ongoing process. “Newcomers to the school…have to understand too.”

Today, this confident, bright-eyed and articulate boy is not only doing well at school, he’s an inspiring advocate for adolescents living with HIV.

“I hope to finally bring out a voice for all children…in my own country, Kenya, in East Africa, and all over Africa. We are innocent, with or without HIV, and should thus be treated equally as children of God.”

We must heed Elijah’s message and learn from his experience.

Too many children and adolescents with HIV are still denied the critical support they need. Globally, just one in four children and adolescents under the age of 15 has access to life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. This explains the alarming news that since 2005, deaths due to AIDS have decreased – except among adolescents.

Every day, more than 300 adolescents die of AIDS and nearly 700 adolescents are newly infected with HIV. These infections affect the most vulnerable groups, especially girls, who comprise two-thirds of all adolescents living with HIV globally.

ALL IN is a new global effort to address this worrying trend, by stopping new infections and ending AIDS deaths among adolescents. It calls on decision-makers across sectors to work more closely with adolescents living with and at risk of HIV, as well as increase access to adolescent-friendly services to prevent and treat young people with HIV. And it calls for better data so that we know who and where the adolescents most at risk are.

We must act now. We must turn these objectives into practical action.

Elijah is a great example of how with the right treatment and the right support, anyone diagnosed with HIV can live a healthy and full life. But this right must be realized for all, not some. We must work to give every adolescent living with HIV the treatment and support she or he needs.

In his speech at the launch of ALL IN, Elijah turned to the President of Kenya and said:

“Mr. President, see to it that we children continue to get our rightful health care. We have the right to live healthy. See to it that our parents keep us in school healthily, always ready to learn. See to it that teachers don’t mistreat or discriminate us. Please help me reach far and wide to other children living with HIV like myself, to help them realize they are children under the Children’s Act and, therefore, have equal rights that should not be violated.”

He’s right, of course. And it’s our responsibility to help all children, everywhere, realise those rights, and build foundations under all their dreams.

Omar Abdi, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, recently visited Kenya to launch the ALL IN effort to end adolescent AIDS. Afterwards, Omar sat down with Elijah-Zachary Lemein Simel from Nairobi who spoke at the launch.

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Crisis in CAR leaves HIV patients at high risk

I was talking to a lively group of women living with HIV in Bangui when I noticed Miriam sitting quietly – a little bit outside of the circle. She was holding her baby girl in her arms. Both she and her daughter were tiny. Too tiny.

It was her dramatic weight loss that had first alerted community mobilisers, who urged her to take a free HIV test in the displacement site where she was living.

Mariam and her daughter attend a meeting of the HIV support group in Bangui.

Mariam and her daughter attend a meeting of the HIV support group in Bangui. (c)UNICEFCAR/2015/Logan

Miriam was horrified when she tested positive, and discovered that her baby girl was also infected. She had not been tested during pregnancy and had unwittingly passed on the disease.

Miriam had only just arrived in Bangui – alone with her children – when she took the HIV test. She had fled from her village north of Bangui after her family’s house had been burnt down by rebels. Those same rebels had shot her husband dead.

She started to cry as she re-told her story to me. The women in the circle listened and nodded. In the two months since she was diagnosed, she said her only source of strength and comfort was this Mother to Child Transmission Support Group. The group of women, who tested HIV positive during their pregnancies, meet every fortnight to share their experiences, and support those who have been newly infected.

They have all been through the same things: the shock and denial of their diagnosis; the rejection by their partners and family; the pain of seeing their children ridiculed; and the difficult first weeks of coping with the new treatment – the antiretroviral drugs so strong that they make the women nauseous – especially on an empty stomach. And in a city like Bangui where humanitarian workers early on in the crisis found that 90% of the displaced population were living on one meal a day[i] – nearly everybody has an empty stomach.

The women share stories, advice and become “like a family”. Without these women, Miriam says, she might have given up.

This past year the women could only meet sporadically, due to the ongoing violence in the capital Bangui, where 50,000 people are still displaced a year after the peak of violence here.

It was not just support that they missed. Throughout the country, the majority of people could not access HIV testing or treatment, because health centres were closed and there was a shortage of drug supplies at clinics outside the capital city – increasing the risk of transmission, growing drug resistance in the population and leaving pregnant women with HIV unable to protect their newborns from transmission.

One woman, Estelle, told me that during the height of the violence she went without treatment for three months. She couldn’t find any services at the displacement site or at the local health centre.

Even before the crisis, the country had one of the highest adult HIV prevalence rates in Central Africa, with an overall estimated prevalence of 4.9% for adults. UNICEF CAR HIV Specialist Cecile Ndoli says that the crisis – which destroyed one-third of health centres – has resulted in an unknown number of new infections.

“We predict that the level of infection has risen due to the fact that mothers could not get tested during pregnancy; the use of rape by armed groups to terrorise communities; and the huge number of children out-of-school at increased risk of unprotected sex,” she said.

HIV testing and support services are being re-established in areas which are recovering from violence. Re-starting HIV prevention and treatment quickly is crucial and will save lives.

Madeleine Logan is a communications officer with UNICEF CAR.

A Spanish version of this blog was originally published in El Pais here.

 

[i] Multi-Cluster Initial Rapid Assessment, CAR, January 2014, Prepared by OCHA on behalf of the Humanitarian Country Team

©UNICEF/UNI164691/Noorani

Photo of the Week: ending the adolescent AIDS epidemic

©UNICEF/UNI164691/Noorani

©UNICEF/UNI164691/Noorani

While deaths from AIDS are falling among most age groups, progress is lagging behind for adolescents aged 10–19, for whom AIDS has become the second-leading cause of death globally. The All In campaign aims to end the AIDS epidemic among adolescents, including by reaching them with HIV services that meet their unique needs and by engaging them in efforts to halt the virus’s spread.

A doctor counsels Mubina* (19) who is living with HIV, in Tashkent in this photograph taken by Shehzad Noorani in Uzbekistan in 2014.

To see more images from UNICEF visit UNICEF Photography.

You can also see the latest photos on the UNICEF Photo app

*Name has been changed to protect identity

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Behind ODESZA’s “Sun Models” music video

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The use of the drone to film aerial images generated great attention among the public, who curious gathered around to take pictures with their cellphones. ©UNICEF Chad/2014/Manuel Moreno

It is the 30th of October of 2014 and I am standing with a drone flying above my head, accompanied by three heavily armed military men, one United Nations security advisor, five international filmmakers, seven actors and a four-month-old baby called Patricia. Dozens of people are taking pictures with their cellphones…. I close my eyes and I ask to myself: how did I arrive here?

I feel like I am on a film set in Los Angeles and a Hollywood cinematographer myself, but this is Moundou, southern Chad, and I work for UNICEF. The drone is actually filming a beautiful sunset scene; the military men are controlling the amused crowd; the security person is a colleague; and Patricia, the baby, is the main actress of the story.

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L: Menodji Gloria plays the role of baby Patricia’s mother. R: Emile Fitikissou and baby Patricia. Both are father and daughter on and off screen. ©UNICEF Chad/2014/Manuel Moreno

So, what does this have to do with the work of UNICEF?

Moundou is a beautiful sunny green town located about 400 kilometers south of Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. It was chosen for the filming of the music video produced by UNICEF Chad in collaboration with American electronic music duo ODESZA. The video aims to illuminate a critical step in achieving an AIDS-free generation: expanding access to HIV treatment for pregnant women.

The song chosen was ODESZA´s “Sun Models” and its duo, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, were fully on board since the conception of the project.

It is commonly known that music can inspire people. This project was born from this specific idea: if music is accompanied by a moving story, with a message of hope, the final product could be the catalyst to reach individuals, news media, political figures, the international community and donors to focus more on an issue.

 

A clear message: children born to HIV-positive mothers can be HIV-free
The world has what is needed to eliminate the transmission of the virus from mother-to-child and achieve an AIDS-free generation. New HIV infections among children in high-income countries is virtually zero, but according to UNICEF´s 2014 Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS, despite great progress, a child is born with HIV every two minutes.

So what are we missing? Where are we failing? Why, in low-income countries such as Chad, is the prevalence of babies born HIV-positive so high?

In the past few years, Chad has shown great commitment in the expansion of programmes that keep women living with HIV alive and effectively prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The coverage in health facilities offering these services has tripled since 2012 and, as a result, more than two thousand babies were born free of HIV in 2013. However, 10,000 pregnant women living with HIV are still left without treatment and support in the country.

Filming the market scene argument for ODESZA´s Music Video on PMTCT.

Filming the market scene for ODESZA´s music video on PMTCT. ©UNICEF Chad/2014/Manuel Moreno

So, we know what works – but so much more needs to be done. How does the video fit into all of this?

For starters, the video will serve as an advocacy tool for the First Lady of the Republic of Chad and current President of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), and it will be presented during the upcoming Summit of the African Union, which will be held on the 28th of January 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thanks to this initiative, the video could spark greater discussion among high level political leaders and hopefully pave a pathway to reinforce planning of national and regional HIV strategies and policies to keep babies HIV-free and their mothers alive.

Since its launch on the 1st of December, marking this year’s World AIDS Day, the music video has reached over 2,3 million people through social media channels and it has been praised for being inspiring and beautiful by the press within the music world. The video is also a good entryway to engage young people globally who may not know about PMTCT or  the work of UNICEF.

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Photo of the Week: Fighting HIV in Nepal

© UNICEF/HIVA2014-00116/Karki

© UNICEF/HIVA2014-00116/Karki

Indra, with her husband and two daughters, remembers how she felt two years ago upon learning she was living with HIV: “I was so shocked that I neither spoke nor cried. I thought I would die soon.”

Now seven months into her third pregnancy, she regularly receives antenatal care and services to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, at a hospital in Achham District. UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health and Population’s work to expand access to PMTCT programmes. (Nepal, 2014)

To see more images from UNICEF visit UNICEF Photography.

You can also see the latest photos on the UNICEF Photo app

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World AIDS Day 2014: HIV and me

I am a peer counselor, and I have been HIV-positive for 6 years. In a way, I don’t see it as a bad thing, because I have learned to live differently, to be more humane and to improve my self-esteem.

When I was first diagnosed, it was something raw in my life. I did not know what to do. Back then, two things crossed my mind: Who do I tell? and, What will become of me? Carlos, a friend who is also HIV-positive, helped lift my self-esteem. I grew to understand that my fight was not against HIV; my fight was and remains to change social norms that will allow me to be seen as a person, free from shame, enterprising, and who is entitled to fully enjoy the same rights as any Ecuadorian citizen.

My struggle has been hard. For a time, when I first started treatment, the supply of antiretroviral treatment ran out at my hospital. We were asked to go to the hospital every day for just one dose, since we were not given a one-month supply as we should have been given. I had just started treatment and was tired of going to the hospital every day for just one dose. I lost my job because I spent so much time standing in long lines at the hospital, despite waking up early. It was intense, since the hospital attends all persons who come in from the provinces, who even slept there in hopes of at least getting treatment for two weeks.

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At the time, I did not know what activism was. I met a few people, among them my colleagues who continue to be activists. I noticed they pressured the director of the hospital to respond to this shortage through the media. It was then that I decided to approach the media, and I began to demand that the government provide treatment. Although the media knew they could not take our pictures because of confidentiality issues, local press took my picture without my knowledge or consent. This news and my picture were printed in the press. I became concerned because my health was at risk.

My family did not know my status. An aunt found out through the article published in the local newspaper that I have HIV. She began to tell everyone that I had AIDS; my neighborhood would have found out if I had not stopped her. Currently, only a few people know my status: my mom, who found out from my aunt, a cousin who I told because she is like my sister, an uncle and my grandfather. These last two completely discriminated against me, distancing themselves from my family and my home, telling my aunt, cousin and mom to distance themselves from me because I would infect them.

Second Decade

When my mom found out that I had HIV, it was devastating for her. She felt defeated thinking that I was going to die, that I could infect everyone in the house, and that they had to get urgently tested to see if they had AIDS, too. At that moment I did not know what to do or how to defend myself, but I found comfort in my true friends who work with me in the organization. I spoke with them about it, a team of three people whom I now consider more than friends, my family.

Thankfully, they helped me resolve the problem before more people found out. They came to my house to speak with my mom about HIV. They shared everything they had gone through living with HIV, and told her I was not alone since I had their support. My mom felt very comforted and supported after meeting them, and she accepted that I have HIV. She hugged me, cried with me, and told me to move forward with my life and not think of the bad but the positive, that I could count on her in everything and that she would always be by my side.

Foto encuentro

Participants at the first national meeting organized by the HIV-positive Adolescent and Youth Network, September 2014. © UNICEF LACRO/2014/Metellus

When I first learned of my diagnosis, I started volunteering because I needed to do something more. I eventually ended up in an organization where I met people who had already been living with HIV for many years, who shared their experiences with me and supported me. I felt the need to learn more about HIV, and in that way share with others people who are diagnosed with HIV. I strengthened my abilities over a long period of time by offering peer counseling during orientations, supporting persons living with HIV, disseminating information about HIV and their rights. Eventually, I became a part of the organization’s leadership, which allows me to promote the quality of life of other youth like me to empower them, impacting each and every one of their lives.

However, there is still discrimination because job opportunities are few. I have spent years leaving my resume in different businesses, filling all the requirements and having all knowledge needed for jobs posted. But, most of my experience has been related to HIV, performing jobs such as health education, health promoter, and facilitation skills, among others, that are on my resume. Although I try to mask this information, I end up having to explain the diplomas that I’ve obtained to the interviewer. I am often asked everything, and that is when I find myself under fire when I am asked the million-dollar question: are you a carrier? Sometimes I deny it, sometimes I do not, since I want to get the job. However, they just stare at me like I am strange and tell me they will call me. I know that answer very well.

All I can say is that a person who lives with HIV is a person that has a special health condition. This is part of my reality. Many do not know what the virus is; only a person living with HIV can best explain what it is. When I speak with peers, there is a chemistry between us where the other person takes away something from me, and I also take away something from that person. This is an experience that no one can understand unless they come from this world. I will continue to always collaborate with others as a peer counselor, learning more from each person. I consider myself like any other person; HIV does not limit or contain me. On the contrary, it motivates me because a health condition should not be a reason to discriminate anyone. What would I be without……
Humor Intelligence Life

Hector* is a member of Ecuador’s HIV-positive Adolescents and Youth Network and helps other HIV-positive youth as a peer counselor with Grupo F.A.V.U., an HIV/AIDS organization in Ecuador that helps other persons living with HIV/AIDS manage their condition and improve their quality of life. He shared his story with UNICEF during the HIV-positive Adolescent and Youth Network’s first national meeting, held in September 2014, ahead of World Aids Day 2014. Hector’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Eveliz Metellus, a UN Volunteer working with UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office’s HIV and AIDS Programme. The story originally appeared here.

UNICEF U-Report

Youth in Zambia: using U-Report to take charge of their futures

I met Josephine earlier this year, a bright 21-year-old young woman from a country where 68 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and three young people become infected with HIV every hour, two of them being girls. That’s an average of 72 young people infected per day, and 27,000 per year. These numbers are strong enough to declare a national health emergency by any definition.

In Josephine’s country, despite the seriousness of the situation, less than 40 per cent of young people have detailed information or knowledge about HIV/AIDS, with lower levels among girls. Poverty and HIV/AIDS have become mutually reinforcing and are perpetuating a cycle of suffering for children and youth that seems endless.

The country I’m referring to is Zambia.

I decided to start this text with a different tone, somewhat resembling a movie trailer, for two reasons: firstly, because what we’re sharing is a cinematic experience; and secondly, in this tale of bravery and innovation, we have a heroine who was born in the slums of Lusaka, in a family of 10 siblings, managed to get herself into school, and is on a mission to change the world.

Let me rewind a bit, back to 2012. The UNICEF Office of Research–Innocenti in Florence commissioned the study Children, ICTs and Development: Capturing the potential, meeting the challenges, published in April 2014. The topic was so promising that we decided to script a short film to support it, showing the human story behind the evidence and featuring a child or teenager who had been positively influenced by technology in the developing world.

After doing quite a bit of research and digging for inspiration, I came across the Zambia case study and U-Report initiative. The minute I read about it, I knew it was right, as if the story had been patiently waiting to be unveiled. Everything fell into place a month later, when I hopped on a plane to Lusaka to start the filming, accompanied by a director and a cinematographer.

So what is U-Report? In a nutshell, it’s an innovative, free-of-charge and youth friendly platform that allows real-time, two-way communication with trained counsellors via SMS on issues of HIV and sexuality transmitted infections (STI) in Zambia. It’s a platform for change in a country where one in every three young people has at least one mobile phone subscription, according to the Zambia Information Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA).

Josephine grabbed the opportunity to reach out to young people and became a U-Reporter two years ago, while still living in Kanyama, one amid the many urban slums in Lusaka. She was expected by society to give up on education, get married and make do with this life, but instead she took a divergent route and decided to make a difference for future generations.

Her story is a snapshot of the youth revolution that is brewing in Zambia and is led by technology. Apart from over 40,000 U-Reporters working together, Google (amongst other partners) is supporting an innovation hub in Lusaka called the BongoHive, where young developers gather on a daily basis to think outside-the-box and create applications and services that can leapfrog development in the country – and beyond.

Innovation is becoming an integral part of Zambia’s DNA. After having the opportunity to connect with many inspiring youngsters in the country, be it at the BongoHive, in Kanyama or in the rural areas, I finally realized that despite all the international support coming from various places, it is only the present and future generations that can truly bring (and sustain) change to a nation.

Josephine is already one of the many emerging leaders. Now she only needs more people to believe and follow her dream.

Ricardo Pires is a UNICEF Communication Specialist, based in Florence, who was recently in Zambia to film a series of documentaries on innovation and Information Communication Technology.