Ali Hakimi, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Afghanistan
The Afghan Red Crescent Society has reached nearly 80,000 young people with awareness-raising programmes in high schools in Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. And in northern Afghanistan, more than hundred Afghan Red Crescent youth peer educators and volunteers took part in a march to mark World Aids Day.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, 505 people have tested positive for HIV in Afghanistan. However, the ministry believes that the real number of people living with HIV in the country is between 2,000 and 2,500.
A low level of community awareness and 20,000 injecting drug users (government figures) are the main factors that contribute to the spread of the virus. Additional factors are the high number of returnees, poverty and the stigmatization of people living with HIV, who are frequently refused assistance by their communities.
Afghan Red Crescent Society volunteer Poran Omidzada said: “I think it is important that we inform the communities that, just because someone is living with HIV, this does not mean that his or her whole life is negative. We have to emphasise the positive aspects.
“Symposiums and campaigns are very helpful in passing the message to the community in order to encourage them to accept people living with HIV. At the same time, this is an opportunity for teach methods and ways to prevent infections,” she adds.
The Afghan Red Crescent, with support of the International Federation and other organizations, is implementing a variety of programmes to improve community awareness about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in general. According to Dr. Fatima Nasir, the Afghan Red Crescent’s HIV and AIDS coordinator, a total of 632 youth peer educators were trained in different districts of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif and 2,930 school teachers were sensitized to related issues.
“Although we could not conduct awareness raising campaigns on HIV/AIDS within Afghanistan’s cities because of the security situation, we have continued with these campaigns and symposiums inside high schools. We have successfully conducted baseline surveys regarding knowledge and attitudes on HIV and AIDS in 63 high schools in Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, reaching more than 79,500 students,” adds Dr. Nasir.
The involvement of young people in prevention efforts has made a significant difference in generating awareness about the disease. The skills-based peer education on adolescent sexual reproductive health has helped to impart knowledge and skills among adolescents in order to build safe practices among them.