Love ho­tels tar­geted to fight HIV among Cameroon’s teens

79,771 chil­dren, youth HIV-pos­i­tive in Cameroon

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

The two big maps show the dis­tricts of the north­ern Cameroo­nian town of Guider along with its broth­els, night­clubs and other seedy spots to iden­tify places from where AIDS could spread among ado­les­cents. Cameroon, a coun­try of 23 mil­lion that hugs Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, has one of the high­est HIV/AIDS preva­lence rates in the world. “The maps high­light the high-risk zones for trans­mis­sion,” said Boris Mbaho Tchap­tchet, 21, speak­ing at a lo­cal youth club. “We lo­cated the love ho­tels, the video clubs, the cabarets, the un­der­ground meet­ing places be­fore putting into place an ac­tion and pre­ven­tion plan in our com­mu­nity,” he said.

The club in Guider was one of those se­lected for the “All In! End Aids among Ado­les­cents” project launched in Au­gust 2015 with the back­ing of the UN chil­dren’s agency UNICEF. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures, 79,771 chil­dren and ado­les­cents are HIV-pos­i­tive, but ex­perts say it is much higher. “This plat­form brings to­gether all the in­ter­ven­tions fight­ing HIV in the coun­try tar­get­ing young peo­ple,” said Jules Ngwa Edielle, who runs the HIV pre­ven­tion in Cameroon’s youth and civic ed­u­ca­tion min­istry. It ropes in lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive, po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties to fight the dis­ease.

You think I’m sick?

With his col­leagues, 21-year-old Bouba Saliou was trained as a peer-group ed­u­ca­tor in his neigh­bor­hood. “My role is to talk with other young peo­ple, ask them ques­tions to un­der­stand their sit­u­a­tion and to en­cour­age them to get tested,” he ex­plained. But broach­ing the del­i­cate is­sue is not with­out its pit­falls. “Some peo­ple re­act say­ing, ‘You think I’m sick? Have you ever seen me hav­ing sex­ual re­la­tions?’ “Other sim­ply refuse, say­ing that they are con­fi­dent about their sta­tus. But I try to con­vince any­way,” he added with smile.

Saliou cites the case of a 17-year-old who found out he was HIV-pos­i­tive be­cause of his in­ter­ven­tion. “He was very an­gry at me when he got the re­sults,” he re­called. “But to­day we talk reg­u­larly and he tells he is fol­low­ing his treat­ment reg­u­larly.” This com­mu­nity-based ap­proach is es­sen­tial if Cameroon is to at­tain the 90-90-90 tar­get set by the UNAIDS, which Cameroon signed up to back in 2015. The aim is to get to the point where 90 per­cent of those who are HIV-pos­i­tive know about their con­di­tion; where 90 per­cent of those who know are on retro­vi­ral treat­ment; and where 90 per­cent of those re­ceiv­ing that treat­ment achieve vi­ral sup­pres­sion.

The hope is to be able to wipe out the virus by 2030. Therese Nduwimana, who runs UNICEF Cameroon’s HIV unit, said the pro­gram had proved its worth in the north of the coun­try with the No Limit for Women Project (Nol­fowop). “With a bud­get of just $40,000 a year the re­sults have been spec­tac­u­lar,” she said. “In just months, the num­ber of HIV-pos­i­tive chil­dren iden­ti­fied has been mul­ti­plied by four,” she said. How­ever, one of the prob­lems is an acute short­age of med­i­cal staff. The hos­pi­tal in Garoua, which serves an area with 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple, only has one pe­di­atrist and one gy­ne­col­o­gist.

Door-to-door cam­paigns

A group of around 30 women were gath­ered at one of the town’s health cen­ters, wait­ing to be tested about their HIV sta­tus. The re­sult is an­nounced al­most im­me­di­ately. “Our vol­un­teers have gone door to door to en­cour­age ev­ery preg­nant woman to get tested,” said Odette Etame, who heads the Nol­fowop project. Other mothers act­ing as men­tors then made home vis­its to phys­i­cally ac­com­pany HIV-pos­i­tive women and their chil­dren for anti-retro­vi­ral treat­ment, she added. This was one way to reach peo­ple who would oth­er­wise be lost from view, she said. Cameroon had a 5.75-per­cent HIV preva­lence rate for preg­nant women in 2016, mak­ing it one of the 10 coun­tries re­spon­si­ble for 75 per­cent of new pe­di­atric in­fec­tions world­wide.—AFP

PARIS: Peo­ple hold plac­ards dur­ing the open­ing of the 9th In­ter­na­tional AIDS So­ci­ety conference on HIV Science in Paris.—AFP

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