Above: participants display certificates accorded them after successful completion of course
St. Teresa, a parish run by the Society of Jesus is located at the heart of Rumbek town which is the headquarters of Western Lakes state of the Republic of South Sudan. It is here that AJAN conducted a AHAPPY training of trainers from 13th June 2019 to 16th.
AHAPPY is a new initiative in St. Teresa’s Parish and the larger Rumbek Diocese. The training was requested by Fr. Augustine Ekeno, SJ, who is the parish priest of the Parish. According to him, HIV and AIDS is a menacing reality ravaging the population in Southern Sudan. “The most unfortunate thing is that the community never talks about it” he said. Many people do not wish to get tested in order that they will know their status. Those infected with the virus do not wish to be discovered.
Below, a group session ensues
A research conducted within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in 2017 showed a surge in HIV/AIDS prevalence which is a real concern for a new country with limited access to medical or HIV preventive services, and which happens to have low literacy levels. This concern is what made Fr. Augustine see a need to empower the local youth so that they can be able to take the lead in sensitizing their community and instilling constructive change.
Below: A ‘primary care’ representative from Diocese of Rumbek makes a presentation
During the training, it was strongly palpable from the youth that having HIV is anathema. Some observed that it is indeed a ‘death sentence’ to have the virus or the disease. The moment you state that you are HIV positive, your life is finished, your information will be spread all over and everywhere you go, the whole community will reject you.’’, one observed.
In the community, the local name for HIV & AIDS is Adarwel, meaning something that is resistant to medicine and for which there is no cure. Thus it is understood that once someone is said to be Adarwel, a death sentence is passed on him or her. People even fear health practitioners coming to knowledge of their statuses. There is even the lack of confidentiality at the testing centers. As a result, the people who do not know their status are many, thus plunging the population into greater risk of infection.
Consequently, people fear to go for voluntary test for HIV. This may be one of the reasons why there is inadequate available data on HIV and AIDS. According to a report by Journal of public health and emergency of December 2018, HIV prevalence in South Sudan is estimated at 3%, with approximately 150,000 to 200,000 South Sudanese living with HIV and AIDS. There is estimated to be approximately 14,000 new infections annually, of which approximately 1,800 (12.9%) were among children (0–14 years). The report goes further to show that although the number of health facilities offering HTS has increased and more people have been tested every year between 2016 and 2017, only 32% of the 1st 90 of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target has been achieved. This indicates that the general population uptake of HTS services is negligible.
AHAPPY training became one of the required interventions for the youth who are very vulnerable and at high risk of HIV infections due to both cultural and political factors. The participants of this AHAPPY exercise were from four parishes; St. Teresa, Sacred Heart, Holy Cross and Holy Family Cathedral, with the host parish (St. Teresa) having a bigger share of trainees. Other groups working in the diocese also sent in their representatives; these were the Primary Health care of the Catholic diocese of Rumbek and staff of Radio stations working in Rumbek town. A total of 29 participants started and on completion were awarded certificates.
The trained youth demonstrated a great enthusiasm and determination in breaking the silence in the society and reducing stigma meted on the HIV positive. Even though they recognized the many bottlenecks standing in their way, they showed willingness to do more to explore community-friendly approaches that would increase effectiveness of their mission. They proposed activities such as drama, radio talks and shows, community services platforms, talks in schools and parish gatherings and at youth symposiums as well as conferences.
Fr. Augustine Ekeno on his part assured them of his support, guidance and mentor-ship in their execution of sensitization activities. Fr. Ekeno, in the closing remarks encouraged them to be devoted emissaries and negotiators of the changes they hope to see in the community especially of leading the people to a HIV & AIDS-free generation. He reminded them that they are being sent, not only by the Parish of St. Teresa or by the diocese of Rumbek, but by the church to take education to all the community.
Below: Fr. Augostine Ekeno, hands a certificate to a successful participant