The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, has just launched an HIV/AIDS prevention program in Ghana. The UNICEF program recruits young people to spread the anti-AIDS message.
UNICEF says young people can most effectively deliver the anti-AIDS message to other young people.
The UNICEF program will train 325 so-called peer educators between now and March. UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte says once the peer educators are trained, they will be expected to organize regular weekly two-hour sessions with groups of young people between the ages of 12 and 15. "An interesting element about the program is that young women are involved," she says. "Young women are key to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. Obviously, this involves everybody, but UNICEF often talks about girls' education. We do not just mean reading, writing and arithmetic. Those are important, but we also mean life skills. And, in particular, HIV/AIDS prevention skills are absolutely life skills."
Official figures from the World Health Organization show that by the end of 1999, 340,000 people in Ghana were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Most of these people were between the ages of 15 and 49. By the end of 1999, an estimated 33,000 people had died of AIDS and 170,000 children had been orphaned in Ghana.
Ms. Belmonte says AIDS has created what she calls a "lost generation" of young people. "What is important in Ghana and elsewhere is who is infected," she says. "In Ghana, the vast majority are between the ages of 15 and 49, young parents, young children without parents. We are talking about a lost generation now dying because of AIDS, and a lost generation that are living without their parents, and are also potentially infected as well."
Ms. Belmonte says the peer educators are mainly from urban slums, school dropouts, and unemployed young people who are interested in the program. She says they are equipped with [flash cards,] videos, megaphones, leaflets and other tools to help them spread the message of AIDS prevention.
The first phase of the project is starting in three of the most densely populated communities in Ghana's capital, Accra. Ms. Belmonte says the program hopes to reach about 80,000 teens and young people by the time it ends next March. After the results are assessed, she says, the project is likely to continue, and be expanded to other parts of Ghana.