Goma – 14 February, 2017 – These activities were taking place at the heart of the 2017 edition of the Amani Peace Festival that ended recently in the North Kivu Provincial capital of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The crowd-pulling event opened a door for MONUSCO to intensify HIV sensitization and to encourage activities that could bring about behaviour change among the youths. Preaching peace, tolerance, and unity through songs, theatre, round table conferences, and other unifying activities, the HIV/AIDS Section of MONUSCO also took advantage of this event to sensitize thousands of youths on how to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as an integral part of peace and stabilization in the DRC.
The sensitization of the youths on HIV in Goma is also a very challenging task. The efforts made so far by some stakeholders involved in the fight against HIV seem to bear little fruits as a significant portion of the youths is still not aware of HIV prevention. Many of the youths interviewed at the Peace Festival said that they were not receiving adequate information on HIV and AIDS. Many others were not even aware of how to protect themselves from HIV while others had to get closer to people talking openly about HIV and AIDS for the first time during the HIV sensitization at the Peace Festival. However, at the event, the HIV/AIDS Section intensified education through information sharing in order to help save lives by improving knowledge of HIV and AIDS among the youths.
“HIV is one of the most urgent concerns facing the Congolese youth today. There is need to do some urgent activities on HIV education because our young people are at risk and vulnerable,” says one parent at the Peace Festival. “The HIV epidemic in this country is having a new face because of the high ignorance shown so far by the young people on this issue,” he reveals.
While thanking the HIV/AIDS Section for taking the initiative to sensitize the youths during the three-day Peace Festival, he suggested that there should be immediate and comprehensive interventions to address the epidemic. He said that if other stakeholders could join the HIV/AIDS Section of MONUSCO to help in empowering the youths with the right information to prevent the spread of the virus, it will be a very good gesture.
“We know very well that unprotected sex is the main cause of HIV. We have to enable the youth to make responsible decisions - abstaining from sex or using a condom,” says another parent. “HIV is no longer a secret and sexually active young people should know their HIV status as a major part of HIV prevention. The earlier they do so, the earlier they can seek care, support, and treatment, to improve quality of life,” she suggests.
She also said that it is very important to remove the stigma against HIV and AIDS, because it is one of the reasons why the virus has continued to spread as the youths are discouraged from getting tested due to fear of being discriminated against. “The issues of HIV and AIDS are still being discussed in secrets in most households in this country. This explains why many young people do not understand this problem and are not taking it serious,” she reveals. “The question on stigma and discrimination related to HIV is also blocking the way to early HIV testing. People living with HIV are still victims of discrimination in most communities,” she concludes.
At the event, the HIV/AIDS Section saw the need for a more proactive approach in countering new HIV infections among the youths. They presented posters, flyers, booklets - creating contacts to encourage people to undergo testing as one of the major ways to prevent the spread of HIV. Voluntary confidential counselling and testing, which is one of the important aspects in avoiding further spread of the virus, was also rendered to people by UNAIDS.
According to some of the young people including Janet who is a level one student in the University of Goma - she has little knowledge about HIV and AIDS because she has not had any opportunity of attending sensitization activities on HIV. “I do not have proper knowledge of HIV or AIDS. I have not heard many people talk about it, but I don’t have any good information on this issue,” she says. “I hope that after reading these information items you have given to me I will be able to understand more on this subject. Truly I don’t know more about HIV and AIDS,” she confirms.
It is necessary to recall that the HIV/AIDS Section of MONUSCO is promoting early HIV testing, fighting stigma and discrimination related to HIV as an integral part of HIV prevention. This provides a crucial link between people living with HIV and the treatment they need to survive - as well as creating a wide range of benefits for others and for themselves. However, all stakeholders involved in the fight against HIV must work together with the Congolese government to help ensure access to effective HIV testing, treatment and care that will save lives and prevent further HIV infections across all communities of the DRC.
By Joseph Tabung Banah