World Aids Day: Helping people living with HIV and AIDS in Benin
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day, held every December 1st, is 'Getting to Zero': zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths. The latest data released by UNAIDS shows that new infections have fallen worldwide by nearly 20% in the last 10 years. Challenges remain however, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where young women are 8 times more likely than men to be HIV-positive.
By offering nutritional, educational and vocational training, as well as psychosocial and legal support for people living with HIV/Aids and their families, Plan helps people plan for their future.
Mariatou lives in Couffo, a region in the south west of Benin with the country's highest rate of people living with HIV and AIDS – 3.3% compared to the national prevalence of 1.7%. According to Ghislaine Agondohoui, Plan International's Health Coordinator in Couffo, the proximity to Togo and an influx of Togolese refugees a few years ago is one reason for the statistical blip. The Abidjan-Lagos corridor runs the length of Benin and lorry drivers are one of the most high risk groups.
Diagnosed as positive some seven years ago, Mariatou now heads up an association of nearly 100 members from the same community, all of whom are positive. They meet every Wednesday to share experiences and discuss how to extend the group's income-generating activities – breeding rabbits and chickens and making garri (cassava flour) – as well as to explore microfinance opportunities, and the best ways to take care of children from households affected by HIV and AIDS. More than 400 children are affected, and 13 who are HIV positive themselves. Most are older children who were unable to benefit from the treatment that is now distributed to prevent mother to child transmission.
As Mariatou put it: "We meet to share our difficulties, by doing so we have started to become autonomous, to do something for ourselves." Her dynamism makes her the perfect candidate to counsel newly-diagnosed mothers and to break down the stigma associated with being positive. She works closely with a Plan project in the region that helps prevent mother to child transmission and she makes home visits to check on people's health, especially when they drop out of sight and stop attending the clinic.
With the money earned from breeding farm animals, the association has set up a solidarity fund that means the poorest members can afford medical expenses. They have also invested in a water pump so they can carry on farming during the dry season.
A short drive away in Djakotomey, the same entrepreneurial spirit is in evidence. A new association for people living with HIV and AIDS, the majority of whom are widows, make scented soap to sell at 200 CFA a bar (or around $.40); it's less physically demanding work than agriculture.
Plan supports the association by providing food kits containing staples like rice, corn, flour and oil as well as school equipment for some of the children.
According to one young man, whose father died nearly three years ago, such support has allowed him and his siblings to continue with their studies: "The food kit has helped us to keep our health in order to go to school."
Learn more about Plan's HIV and AIDS programs.
Plan's work in Benin.