As church liturgy concludes at St. Mikael's Church in Assela, Ethiopia, loudspeakers announce the availability of free HIV testing for couples and pregnant women. Mesay, a 30-year-old expectant mother dressed in her Sunday best, steps over to the nearby tent to be tested for the HIV virus for the first time. Older women volunteers, trusted members of the community, mill about the crowd and encourage other mothers and couples to get tested for the well-being of their family's future.
The testing was offered by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), working in cooperation with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter Church Aid Commission (EOC-DICAC) as part of a special awareness campaign on the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV. Since initiating small-scale activities in 2003, IOCC's program in Ethiopia has expanded nationwide, culminating with an HIV/AIDS education and awareness program that has reached over 11.5 million Ethiopians with prevention and awareness messages.
Mesay meets with a counselor first who explains the process of the test carefully and what either a positive or negative result will entail. Next, a health professional administers the test, consisting of a small pinprick to the finger and a quick draw of blood applied to individual test strips. Thirty minutes later, Mesay returns to learn the test results. No one but Mesay and whomever she chooses to share the news with will ever know her results. If the HIV virus is detected in her body, however, she will be counseled on how to prevent its transmission to her unborn child as well as on maternal, neonatal and child health. She will be encouraged to have her husband go to the local health center for his free testing and she will be referred for antiretroviral treatment. If the test result is negative and she is virus free, the counselor will advise her on how to avoid contracting the virus in the future.
On this day, only one percent of the 300 participants tested positive in a country where the HIV infection rate is currently estimated at over two percent. Even more encouraging, however, is the lack of stigma surrounding the purpose behind this event. Through your ongoing support, and funding from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), IOCC has been able to work effectively with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church at events such as these to educate hundreds of people at a time on the prevention of transmitting the disease. The hope is that the information the participants gained on this day will be shared with others in their communities and beyond.
Ethiopia currently has one of the largest populations of HIV infected people in the world, with an estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV. The global commitment set by the United Nations is to eradicate the presence of AIDS by 2020.
ABOUT INTERNATIONAL ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHARITIES
IOCC, founded in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), has implemented relief and development programs in more than 40 countries around the world.
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You can help the victims of disasters around the world by making a financial gift to the IOCC International Emergency Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief as well as long-term support through the provision of emergency aid, recovery assistance and other support to help those in need. To make a gift, please visit www.iocc.org, call toll free at 1-877-803-IOCC (4622), or mail a check or money order payable to IOCC, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, Md. 21263-0225.
Media contact: Rada K. Tierney, IOCC Media Relations, 443-823-3489, firstname.lastname@example.org