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Zambia: Caring for AIDS Orphans in Kitwe - 2002-04-19

The growing number of AIDS orphans is placing a strain on the resources of many developing countries. And things are only expected to get worse. It’s estimated that within 10 years there will be at least 40-million AIDS orphans, about four times the current number. Much of the responsibility for caring for these children has fallen on grandparents and community groups. One such organization is CINDI-Kitwe (SIN-dee KIT-weh), located in Zambia’s Copper Belt.

Kitwe is Zambia’s third largest town, located about 300 kilometers north of the capital, Lusaka. Sixty-five thousand orphans live there, many, if not most, having lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

Helping care for about 10-thousand of those orphans is the organization, CINDI-Kitwe, with its more than 700 volunteers. CINDI stands for “children in distress.” Terry Mukuka is the program director.

He says, "The problem with AIDS is that it stretches across all boundaries. And really it has been very difficult in the sense that the children themselves are left without their parents. So, it has become very, very difficult for the children to survive, in the sense that the traditional community and family extended relationship has been very difficult to sustain the number of orphans who are being accepted in the homes."

Mr. Mukuka says the high number of deaths from HIV/AIDS is breaking down extended families in Zambia’s Copper Belt. He says CINDI-Kitwe is trying to support them with food, medical care and counseling.

"With our program at CINDI, we’re trying to encourage and lobby the community members to respond to this problem," he says. "And hence the model for care for these children is that they are being kept within the community by family members, extended family members with the support of the CINDI-Kitwe program."

But he says more aid is needed for Kitwe’s health and education programs.

"The schools are finding it very difficult to sustain a larger population of orphan children in the schools to be able to raise income for them. But we have been fortunate enough that the Republic of Zambia now has declared that all primary school education is free. And that has brought in a lot of good will to these children who have got no direct support."

Part of CINDI-Kitwe’s program is raising awareness about HIV/AIDS among the town’s youth.

Mr. Mukuka says, "For the preventive aspect we are also dealing in terms of providing adequate information on safe sex and adults and behavioral change. And also we’re dealing with actually visiting these children and encouraging them to visit youth friendly services. And also we do encourage them to use preventive tools, such as condoms."

Asked what would happen to AIDS orphans if community groups like CINDI-Kitwe were not there to help, Terry Mukuka says the answer’s obvious.

"These children would be extremely put under a lot of strain and pain. So to answer that question, I think that would be a disaster."

The community-based group says despite some successes, it faces a number of constraints, including a rising poverty rate in Zambia. CINDI-Kitwe receives support from UN agencies as well from as many international non-governmental organizations. However, it says it needs more long-term assistance.