Confronting HIV/AIDS education in Cameroon

September 5th, 2006 by bobebill

Kumba AIDS sign_1.jpgDuring my visit to Cameroon over the past summer, one thing that I hadn’t seen during my Peace Corps service in the 80’s became very obvious as a major problem in Cameroon today. The most pressing health issue confronting the people of Cameroon right now is the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. As in much of the developing world, getting information to the public has been a challenge, but a necessary one if behaviors are going to be changed. The Cameroon government is engaged at all levels, and there are signs along every road and posters almost everywhere you go, attempting to warn people of the dangers they face from the disease.

BOBONG AIDS SIGN_1.jpgPeace Corps volunteers are particularly involved in the education drive, and many have secondary projects in AIDS education, or are working an educational activity into their work when possible. The Friends of Cameroon recently funded more than $3,000 to support four projects involving PCVs working with local groups to develop outreach activities. Most towns and villages have AIDS committees dedicated to outreach and educational activities.

Project Hope
Project Hope group shot_1.jpg A model program for the country is now taking place in Njinikom at the Catholic Mission Hospital, assisted by a Peace Corps Crisis Corps volunteer, Fiona Smith, a Mali RPCV. Project Hope is a pilot program for HIV/AIDS outreach and education for Cameroon. In October 2000, a local study of HIV/AIDS was conducted at the hospital in Njinikom. Results of the study showed that 40 percent of the beds in the adult wards were occupied by HIV-positive patients, and that 13.8 percent of the pregnant women receiving prenatal care were also HIV positive. Of the mothers, 40 percent were under the age of 20, and nine percent were students.

Working with the data, researchers determined that the HIV rate in the Njinikom area was more than 16 percent, higher than the 12 percent estimate for the North West Province. These findings led the hospital and the resident doctors to establish Project Hope. Initial funding was provided by non-governmental organizations, including InterCare, Heifer Project, PLAN Cameroon, and UNICEF.

As with any village-based project, it is not without it challenges and problems. As a project run by a Catholic mission hospital, there are moral conflicts that must be dealt with. The group of dedicated volunteers working with Project Hope are reaching out to the surrounding areas, an the under-paid (and often unpaid) staff continues to seek out people who need to be tested.

One thing that I noted while traveling around Cameroon is that even though HIV testing is available very inexpensively, most people are not willing to take the test. Staff at Project Hope verified that they also have problems getting people to be tested. As one of the goals of the project is to identify and address behavioral and cultural habits that predispose people in the community to HIV/AIDS, this seemed to be a major hurdle to overcome.

How to help
The Friends of Cameroon has funded HIV/AIDS projects through the regular self-help project proposal process in the past, including the four projects funded this year. Anyone with an interest in helping Project Hope should contact me directly for further information, at bobebill@comcast.net