Saturday, August 12, 2000

Africans learn AIDS initiatives

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Facing poverty, low literacy rates and the explosive growth of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, government and health care officials are left to ask, “Where do we start?”

        For a group of five such officials, some of those answers were found Friday in Cincinnati at Caracole Inc., a program that provides housing and services to people with AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

        A delegation from six African countries was in the Tristate as part of an eight-city tour to learn about U.S. public health initiatives on HIV/AIDS and the positive impact that advocacy and activism can have on public policy.

        “You just can't imagine the numbers,” said Desiree Margaret Daniels, director of special initiatives for an AIDS program called Love life in South Africa. “It's hard to think we'd ever get this far.”

        The African visitors discussed Caracole's programs and ways similar programs might be implemented in their homelands. Through a combination of federal support and private donations, Caracole provides a community living environment for adults with HIV/AIDS who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

        “I know in America we haven't seen the kind of devastation you have seen,” said Sue Butler, Caracole's executive director.

        Statistics show AIDS has killed more than 14 million people in sub-Saharan Africa compared with 470,000 in North America. Several visitors wanted to learn how to persuade their governments to take action and to spend money on issues that stem from the AIDS epidemic such as problems with housing and other care.

        “We have not had enough political involvement in HIV/AIDS” said Caroline Maposhere, a national researcher and advocacy trainer in Zimbabwe.

        This year new representatives were elected to parliament in Zimbabwe, she said. The next presidential election will be in 2002.

        The visitors' program began in Washington, D.C., with an overview of U.S. health policy. The tour also stopped in Los Angeles and San Francisco, two cities that have been leaders in prevention and awareness of HIV/AIDS since the 1980s.

        Because of the Queen City's proximity to Kentucky and the Blue Ridge Mountains, the group learned about initiatives to prevent AIDS in hard-to-reach areas.

        “If you're going to have effective programs you have to get into the communities and find the leaders who are willing to get the education and spread the word,” said Dan Newman, a health educator for the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department.

        While the scale of problems in Africa and the United States is vastly different, the health officials in Africa and those at Caracole face some of the same issues.

        “Knowledge alone is not enough to change behavior,” Ms. Maposhere said. “The myths are still going on.”


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