Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are revealing and attempting to address the growing problem of HIV-positive street children in Senegal and Zambia. Street children in both of these countries are often orphans whose parents died from AIDS or who ran away from an abusive family situation; frequently, they turn to prostitution to earn money, the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reports.
According to IRIN, a survey of 30 street children in Dakar, Senegal‘s capital city, found that 70 percent had engaged in sex with multiple partners. When asked about AIDS, the report found that half of the respondents did not know how HIV is transmitted and 40 percent did not know how to prevent transmitting the virus, IRIN reports. Le Samu Social Senegal is the only NGO that provides Senegalese street children with medical care, but they often encounter problems. Isabelle de Guillebon, who runs Samu, told IRIN that the street children are often under the influence of drugs, which inhibits their ability to connect with Samu’s staff, and that Senegalese legislation does not allow children to be tested for HIV without parental consent, making it impossible for street children to determine their status.
NGOs in Zambia, which has a 16.5 percent rate of HIV infection (compared with Senegal’s relatively low rate of 0.9 percent), are making progress in addressing the problem of sexually active street children. To provide an alternative for street children, who often are exposed to HIV/AIDS as a result of prostitution, Zambian Monica Eisenberg founded the Back to School Project, an NGO that provides education, food, counseling, and health services, including HIV tests. The organization encourages them to find productive ways to spend their time, such as taking photographs to create an exhibit explaining the ways HIV cannot be transmitted or broadening their vocabulary to create rap songs.
Catherine Sozi, the head of UNAIDS in Zambia, spoke to IRIN about the importance of community involvement in addressing the problem of street children and HIV/AIDS, saying, “Winning the fight against HIV/AIDS will ultimately come down to what individuals can do, what religious leaders can do to help remove the stigma, and about what the private sector can do to help its workersÉ Most important is the task of changing people’s behavior, and that is not a job any one group or the government can do alone, it’s up to everybody to help, the whole society.”