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Empowering young people to prevent HIV/AIDS
Monday 25 October 2004
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ANGOLA: Empowering young people to prevent HIV/AIDS

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


23-year old Josepha Daniel

LUANDA, 20 October (PLUSNEWS) - Wednesday mornings at the Jango youth centre in Viana, just outside the Angolan capital, Luanda, are characterised by the beating drums and clapping that are part of a capoeira class - an energetic Brazilian dance and exercise form - held there three times a week.

The Jango centre, housed in a well-equipped, clean building, is a cool place to be. This is where youth in Viana come to hang out, attend computer and sewing lessons or learn English. They also receive information on family planning and HIV/AIDS through plays and workshops.

Jango centres, supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), operate with local NGOs in other provinces and are part of Telling the Story, a youth campaign funded by the United Nations Foundation, which sponsors youth projects in seven AIDS-affected countries in southern Africa.

The director of the centre, Arnaldo Camolacongue, is dressed in trendy cargo pants and a bright red baseball cap, blending in perfectly with the youngsters he helps.

In Angola, where seven out of 10 people are aged under 24, young people are bearing the brunt of the country's AIDS crisis. A recent UNICEF and Population Services International study found that over half of 15-year-olds had already had their first sexual experience.

Girls fared even worse, as they had to grapple with teenage pregnancies, sexual coercion and transactional sex, Melanie Luick, UNICEF HIV/AIDS Project Officer, told PlusNews.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the small, dusty compound, tightly packed with green army tents for displaced people, just around the corner from the Jango centre. Established in 1992, the compound is home to about 1,500 people who were driven from their homes during the country's civil war.

Groups of chattering schoolchildren dressed in the regulation white uniform are streaming back into the camp from school. Life here is tough when you are young, commented Moises Issolo, one of the camp coordinators.

The poverty-stricken living conditions have forced many young girls into sex work in exchange for money or food. "We have nothing to offer them here, it is difficult to prevent," he said.

"We can advise them to use condoms, but they won't necessarily use them."

The Jango centre sells condoms for 5 kwanza (US $0.08)- a fraction of what they cost in Luanda. "They are cheaper than bread," Camolacongue pointed out.

For 17-year old Tina Paolo, participating in any of the centre's activities is a luxury she can hardly afford. She arrived at the camp six years ago, after her home in Huambo, in the central highlands, was destroyed during the war. "I can't go back now, my mother and father are gone. This is my home now," she told PlusNews.

Eight months pregnant, Tina lives in the camp with her three young nieces and her cousin, selling beer to make ends meet.

Every week she travels to a nearby warehouse to buy fresh supplies to fill her cooler box and will continue doing this until she goes into labour. Tina makes about 500 kwanza (US $8.70) a week from her business and would like to become a doctor when she grows up. Ever the pragmatist, she added that hairdressing was a more viable alternative, if she received a micro-credit loan.

When asked about the baby's father, Paolo shrugged wearily as she related how she had never seen the married man again after telling him she was pregnant. "He doesn't care about me."

She had not yet made any plans for the baby's arrival. "I don't know what will happen. If I can get transport, I will go to the hospital. If not, I will have it at home."

Although she is not a regular visitor to the centre, she had been informed of HIV-testing during outreach efforts by the centre's peer educators. Tina was subsequently tested for the virus at the Goal voluntary testing and counseling (VCT) clinic at the Ilhia, one of the few testing facilities in Luanda, and was found to be negative. The Jango centre takes young people willing to be tested to the VCT clinic once a week.

Despite attempts to conduct awareness campaigns in the settlements dotted around Luanda, Comalcangue admitted that young people living in displaced camps were hard to make contact with.

But in the village of Bita, about 40 km outside Viana, the centre's activities have borne fruit. Bita is very difficult to reach, with the narrow, bumpy dirt roads making the 40 km journey seem even longer.

A 20-year old man from Bita was at the Viana centre recently when peer educators were discussing the signs of HIV and AIDS. Recognising the symptoms in a young girl in his village, he asked the centre for help. Peer educators then expanded their outreach efforts to include Bita.

Three months ago, Josepha Daniel from Bita was tested for HIV and diagnosed HIV-positive. "At first I felt bad when I found out, but they counselled me and told me I could live a long and healthy life, and see my son grow up," she told PlusNews.

In December, Daniel will begin receiving free antiretroviral drugs from the government's Clinica Esperanca in the city centre. Camolacongue's NGO, Cuidados da Infancia, has offered to provide transport for her to travel to Luanda once a month to get the drugs.

But Daniel and her mother are worried about the costs involved - the food, transport and regular tests to monitor her immune system. Josepha's mother cultivates manioc on a small plot in Bita, but this year's poor rains have taken their toll on the family, which includes Josepha's six-year old son.

Reliable data on HIV prevalence in Angola remains elusive. The first national HIV/AIDS survey is now underway, taking place in health facilities in each of Angola's 18 provinces, with the anonymous testing of blood samples from 15,000 pregnant women over five years.

According to official figures, HIV prevalence in Angola is just 5.5 percent, but it is generally believed that the actual rate is probably double that, and population movements both into and within the country could accelerate the spread of the virus.

Compared to shockingly high prevalence figures in neighbouring countries, humanitarian workers are cautiously optimistic that Angola can still curb the spread of the disease.

Considering that more than half of all reported cases of HIV/AIDS take place in young Angolans between 20 and 39, the limited reproductive health services currently available in the country will have to try harder to make sure that young people, especially girls like Tina Paolo and Josepha Daniel, do not fall through the cracks.


Recent ANGOLA Reports
HIV/AIDS plan moving "too slowly",  30/Aug/04
Churches urged to join fight against HIV/AIDS,  30/Jan/04
Irish NGO calls for increased AIDS prevention,  8/Dec/03
National AIDS plan launched,  28/Nov/03
Making safe sex cool,  16/Oct/03
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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