UNICEF at work
This can be because they are orphaned by the disease and face a hard life without their parents, can’t go to school because they have to care for family members sick with AIDS, or they themselves suffer from the disease.
UNICEF has formed partnerships with governments, other organisations and community and religious groups to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. Together they work towards setting and achieving goals, making communities stronger and protecting vulnerable children. The main areas UNICEF works in are:
Educating people to prevent HIV/AIDS from spreading
UNICEF is working with governments and other organisations to teach young people and communities about how to protect themselves from the disease. Different ways to educate people are as follows:
- UNICEF works with governments to encourage children to be taught about HIV/AIDS at school. UNICEF has asked governments to lower school fees so that more children can stay at school and benefit from an education.
- UNICEF is working to reach children who are not at school through radio programmes, television, and community and religious leaders. For example, in Angola UNICEF is developing regular radio and television materials to reach three-quarters of the population as well as youth radio stations and youth programmes for every province.
- UNICEF is working to teach children the “life skills” they need to make decisions, cope with difficult situations and talk about their feelings – to help young people to be confident enough to insist on using condoms, wait until they’re older to have sex and have less partners. For example, in Albania UNICEF helped prepare a life skills manual for high school teachers to use covering topics like values and drugs. It includes lessons on communication skills and working with others as well as dealing with situations fairly and without being aggressive.
- UNICEF is helping young people get access to affordable and youth-friendly services where they can get advice, get tested, and get contraceptives. While UNICEF does not supply condoms, UNICEF recognizes the important role they play in preventing the spread of diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS. UNICEF believes that condoms should be widely available in an era of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases, and strongly embraces the “ABC” approach for educating young people on how to protect themselves from HIV – Abstinence, Be Faithful, Use Condoms. The ABC approach has been endorsed worldwide as the most effective and comprehensive method of saving lives.
- UNICEF teaches people about HIV/AIDS during emergencies such as wartime when it spreads quickly, especially among soldiers and people in crowded refugee camps.
Peer educationis a great way to educate young people. By getting young people who have HIV to speak out, it helps to lessen the stigma and shows their peers that HIV can affect anyone. Young people are more likely to talk openly about sex and drugs with people their own age than a teacher. They are less afraid to ask questions and are more likely to listen to someone who is nearer their age group.
Peer educators reach out to child workers at night school about HIV/AIDS in Mumbai, India
Teachers and peer educators who take part in the programme have been trained to reach everyone in the community, especially child workers who go to night schools.
At dusk, despite heavy rain, Santosh, a young community peer educator, is at one of these night schools talking to students on how they can protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. About thirty teenage boys are at the night school, most of whom spend their days working as waiters, cycling rickshaws and as porters.
Santosh talks about what HIV/AIDS is and the dangers of injecting drugs, having unprotected sex and lots of partners, which can all increase the chance of getting HIV.
Some of the students have heard about HIV/AIDS, but hardly anyone knows how you get it. “To protect yourself and others against HIV/AIDS, you have to get body and mind working together,” says the teacher who is with Santosh. He means you have to think before you do things with your body that could lead to you getting HIV/AIDS. It’s an important lesson for the boys to hear.
Helping to prevent children from getting HIV from their mothersUNICEF works with other organisations and governments to give tests for HIV to pregnant mothers and wants more medicine to be available to lessen the risk of passing the virus onto unborn babies. UNICEF also helps to teach women about the safest way to breastfeed their babies if they are HIV-positive and teaches pregnant women that they can have healthy babies with the right medicines.
Nina counsels other pregnant women in Ukraine
Nina Gordeyeva is a young mother and social worker who works at Mangoost, a local foundation supported by UNICEF, which provides support to HIV-positive women.
“Three years ago, when I went to the maternity hospital, I found out that I had HIV,” Nina says. “Of course I was absolutely horrified. I could not stop crying. I told my husband about it straight away. He refused to believe me and would not take an HIV test. Even now he won’t believe that he has HIV.”
“I started working at Mangoost. I deal with some HIV-positive pregnant women, and describe my own experience to them, as well as explain that life is not over just because you know that you have HIV.”
Nina and her husband were divorced after their child was born. “She is two and a half, a clever little girl who knows lots of rhymes, likes singing and will soon start going to nursery school. Most important of all – she is completely healthy – I did not pass on the HIV virus to her.”
Nina often visits maternity wards in her area where HIV-positive mothers give birth, to show them a real example of someone living with HIV and to give them hope that their children can be born without the virus.
Olga, one of the mothers whom Nina met, discovered that she was HIV-positive when she became pregnant. Nina helped her to overcome her fears and convinced Olga that with the right medicines she could safely go ahead and have her baby.
“At the maternity unit they gave me antiretroviral drugs, and the doctors and all the medical staff treated me with understanding and respect,” Olga said. “My daughter was born beautiful and healthy. My husband supports and helps me. We are planning to have a son once our daughter is a little bit older.”
Mangoost social workers and volunteers give psychological advice, teach people about how to prevent HIV and help anyone who has the virus. Today there are 18 pregnant women with HIV who go to the HIV/AIDS Centre. They are all given advice and treated with the right medicines to give them a healthy newborn baby.
Protection for vulnerable childrenUNICEF focuses on groups at a higher risk of getting HIV/AIDS such as children living on the streets, school dropouts, sex workers and children affected by war. Each country has different groups that are at high-risk of getting HIV/AIDS – in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, most new HIV infections are spread among injecting drug users, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV is usually sex-related.
UNICEF’s work with orphans and Child-Headed HouseholdsHIV/AIDS can leave children especially vulnerable when both parents die from the disease. UNICEF works with other groups to help keep orphaned children with relatives instead of leaving them to fend for themselves or being forced to go to an orphanage. UNICEF does this by giving relatives money to help towards the cost of looking after the orphan. UNICEF also gives counselling and helps parents write wills so that their children are provided for after their deaths.
As child-headed households are becoming more common, UNICEF helps to make these orphans realise that there is help at hand. UNICEF has volunteers and social workers who work with communities to help orphans.
Here is a story about three sisters in Mozambique:
Three sisters: Laura, Cremilda and Anastacia spend their afternoons studying in the shade as the afternoon slips into evening. It seems like a perfect family scene - three young girls aged 14, 12 and 10 quietly doing their homework in preparation for school the next day. But it’s far from perfect.
The three girls are orphans living alone in their parents’ house.
In the last six months, both their parents have died. Now they are getting through their days as best they can without them. Shortly after their mother’s death three months ago, their few possessions were stolen from their house, which is a simple bamboo and wooden structure on the edge of town.
UNICEF supports a non-profit association of people living with HIV/AIDS and their supporters called Kuvumbana (which means “to be united” in the local language). “We want them to realize that although they lost their parents they are not alone, that there are people who can take care of them,” said Fatima, from Kuvumbana.
Kuvumbana volunteers like Perpetua and Fatima travel around the district to help vulnerable families and children who have been orphaned. The volunteers struggle to visit 124 households, including five child-headed households, each week. “We work closely with the community leaders. They guide us and show us which households have orphans and we try and find out whether they are attending school, getting enough food and being immunized” explains Perpetua.
After school, the sisters work a small plot of land beside their house and then retire to a large mat in the shade to look at their schoolbooks while Laura, the oldest, makes dinner.
“We have two or three meals a day: We eat maize, fries and sometimes some leaves with it,” she says. “The community workers give us school materials, pencils, text books and also some food. They make us feel better.”
UNICEF also collects data and research on how to help fight the virus.
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