UNICEF Advocates in Ethiopia and Chad joins hands to support HIV/AIDS prevention interventions

By Wossen Mulatu

Group photo at Addis Ketema Youth Centre with visitors from UNICEF Chad.
Group photo at Addis Ketema Youth Centre with visitors from UNICEF Chad: Mani Virgille Djelassem, 16 years old and UNICEF Chad’s Youth Advocate, Far left and Tommy T. Gobena, UNICEF Ethiopia supporter, centre red shirt. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Baiguatova

27 January 2015: UNICEF Chad’s Youth Advocate, 16 year old Mani Virgille Djelassem, and UNICEF Ethiopia Supporter- Tommy T. Gobena visited the Addis Ketema Youth Centre and its HIV prevention activities today.

The Chadian National Council for the fight against AIDS, in collaboration with UNICEF Chad, nominated the 16-year-old Mani as a National Youth Advocate to intensify the communications activities around the issue of HIV/ AIDS among youth and adolescents. Her appointment was officially presented by the First Lady of Chad, Mrs Hinda Deby, during the celebration of World AIDS Day on 1st December last year.

Tommy T. Gobena, a bass player in ‘Gogol Bordello’- a renowned international rock band- has been closely working with UNICEF in conveying messages on HIV/AIDS prevention. Tommy’s public service announcement (PSA) entitled “Your life; Your decision” produced by UNICEF in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and UNAIDS has received extensive public viewers and positive feedback on social media after its release on World AIDS Day last year.

Tommy believes that ignorance about the disease is a great enemy. “Education and knowledge should be a big part of the fight against HIV/AIDS. HIV is now a treatable medical condition. Through providing the necessary information, we can reduce HIV prevention as well as the stigma attached to it.”

The duo observed the Addis Ketema Youth Centre’s youth activities, including the library, cafeteria, Voluntary Counseling and Testing and game centres, and met with young beneficiaries. While discussing the issue of HIV/AIDS, Tommy and Mani highly encouraged them to get tested and know their HIV status as early as possible.

”The sooner you know your HIV status, the more options there are available to you.” said Mani.

“You can prevent infection to others if you find out you are HIV positive and you can seek medical care early and live a healthy life. If you test negative, you can continue to protect yourself from the virus by avoiding risky sexual behaviour,” reiterated Tommy.

Tommy and Mani also had the opportunity to meet with the Director of the Disease Prevention and Control Directorate at the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Mahlet Kifle, and the HIV Team Coordinator, Dr Frehiwot Nigatu.

“I highly encourage adolescents in Ethiopia to be a champion for change and share their knowledge about HIV with each other.” said Mani.

Dr. Mahlet Kifle on her part said, “In order to prevent the prevalence of the HIV virus among adolescents and young people, the appointment of such committed advocates is key. Likewise, we will do all the needful to support and work together with such champions for HIV prevention in Ethiopia by also taking the example of Chad.”

In Ethiopia, the prevalence of HIV in terms of percentage of the population is low compared to other African countries. In 2011, 1.5 per cent of the population between the age 15 and 49 was HIV positive. In 2005, this rate was 1.4 per cent. However, taking into account the large population, the absolute numbers of people infected with HIV is high. Young people are often at a greater risk to become infected with HIV. They may have shorter relationship spans and therefore more sexual partners, or they may engage in risky sexual practices. Girls face a higher risk of HIV infection than boys.

In 2011 DHS report, 0.2 per cent of adolescent girls (aged 15-19) were HIV positive compared to 0 per cent of boys. This rate has declined since 2005, when this rate was 0.7 per cent of girls and 0.1 per cent of boys.[1]

UNICEF: 1.1 million HIV infections in children averted since 2005

Lemlem, 20-years-old, with her 18-month-old son at the Saris Health Center in Addis Ababa

An estimated 1.1 million HIV infections among children under 15 have been averted, as new cases declined by over 50 per cent between 2005 and 2013, according to data released by UNICEF today ahead of World AIDS Day.

 This extraordinary progress is the result of expanding the access of millions of pregnant women living with HIV to services for the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT). These include lifelong HIV treatment that markedly reduces the transmission of the virus to babies and keeps their mothers alive and well.

“If we can avert 1.1 million new HIV infections in children, we can protect every child from HIV – but only if we reach every child,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.  “We must close the gap, and invest more in reaching every mother, every newborn, every child and every adolescent with HIV prevention and treatment programmes that can save and improve their lives.”

 The sharpest declines took place between 2009 and 2013 in eight African countries: Malawi (67per cent); Ethiopia (57per cent); Zimbabwe (57per cent); Botswana (57per cent); Namibia (57per cent); Mozambique (57per cent); South Africa (52per cent) and Ghana (50per cent).

Ethiopia is one of the 25 countries that reduced new HIV infections by 90 per cent from 135,000 in 2001 to 15,100 in 2013. On average, more than 11 million people per year have been reached with HIV testing and counselling as part of early treatment initiation efforts. People living with HIV who are accessing antiretroviral treatment (ART) have dramatically increased from 8,000 in 2005 to over 350,000 in 2014.  However, coverage of ART for children less than 15 years is only 23 per cent compare to 86 per cent for adults in 2014. 

In Ethiopia, mother to child transmission rate has also significantly reduced from 35 per cent in 2009 to 19 per cent in 2013. As of June 2014, over 19,000 pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral prophylaxis or treatment. Coverage of antiretroviral treatment for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) increased from 24 per cent in 2010 to 60 per cent in 2014. However, the country is behind the global goal of providing antiretroviral medicine to 90 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV.

Haregua Askale stands in her traditional bar waiting for customers

“UNICEF is committed to reducing the number of children born with HIV in Ethiopia by supporting the government innovative strategy of Heath Extension Workers and Health Development Army through demand creation intervention as a primary prevention. In 2014 alone, this strategy has resulted in 1.2 million pregnant women testing for HIV.” said Ms. Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Acting Representative.

Overall, UNICEF contributed to the considerable progress made by the government of Ethiopia in improving PMTCT, including HIV testing for pregnant women, antiretroviral treatment for HIV-positive women for Prophylaxis, CD4 test provision and HIV tests for infants born from positive mothers, and the roll out of the option B+[1].  Maternal ARV coverage for PMTCT has increased by 60.6 per cent in 2014, improving Ethiopia’s performance among the 22 PMTCT priority countries.

Despite the decline in HIV prevalence among young people, there is strong consensus based on evidence that girls and young women remain disproportionately vulnerable to HIV infection in Ethiopia. In this regard, UNICEF continues to provide support to the government of Ethiopia to address these issues. 

Disparity in access to treatment is hampering progress. Among people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries, adults are much more likely than children to get antiretroviral therapy (ART). In 2013, 37 per cent of adults aged 15 and older received treatment, compared with only 23 per cent of children (aged 0-14) – or less than 1 in 4. 

AIDS mortality trends for adolescents are also of significant concern. While all other age groups have experienced a decline of nearly 40 per cent in AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2013, adolescents (aged 10-19) are the only age group in which AIDS-related deaths are not decreasing. 

UNICEF’s Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS provides the most recent analysis of global data on children and adolescents from birth to 19 years of age.

To download a copy of the data update, excel spreadsheets, tables and graphs, please visit: www.childrenandaids.org