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HIV/AIDS Fairs to Encourage Testing Among School-Age Youths in Congo Republic

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BRAZZAVILLE, December 8, 2008—The World Bank joined forces with the Government of the Republic of Congo and other development partners last August to provide financial support for HIV/AIDS fairs during school holidays (Kermesses Sida Vacances, KERSIVAC). The primary aim of this campaign was to increase young people’s knowledge and awareness about HIV/AIDS, in order to help them develop risk management skills and encourage them to undergo voluntary HIV testing.

The fairs were held in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, the two largest cities in Congo, under the auspices of the Permanent Executive Secretariat of the National AIDS Council (Conseil National de Lutte contre le Sida, SEP/CNLS), in collaboration with the ministries of youth, sports, primary and secondary education.

Over a period of 14 days, competitions were organized around various board games and children’s movies were shown. A talent showcase was also organized to feature drawings by young artists that convey messages about HIV/AIDS. Later promotional activities on the use of condoms took place, as well as lectures about films on HIV/AIDS and various HIV/AIDS-related issues. A voluntary HIV testing facility that provided results on site was set up, and a blood drive was also held. All these activities were enhanced by entertainment, such as musical concerts, theatric performances, story-telling, and inter-active public broadcasts.

The concept of Kermesse Sida Vacances emerged from the observation that most young people lacked activities during school vacation periods.

“Studies have shown that for schoolchildren, the holiday period brings increased vulnerability to HIV. It is not unusual for young girls to return to school with unwanted pregnancies,” said Marie-Francke Puruehnce, executive secretary of the CNLS.

“The idleness and lack of activities associated with the holidays lead young people to engage in sexual intercourse more frequently, and most often without protection. Those who abstain from sexual intercourse and who have been the victims of teasing from other students during the school year seek out a sexual encounter during the holidays in an attempt to ‘fit in’ when they go back to school,” she added.

KERSIVAC has yielded positive results. The massive participation of young people in the various activities planned has shown the need for wholesome entertainment and educational spaces. This participation also demonstrates the young people’s commitment to taking charge of their lives and changing their habits regarding HIV/AIDS.

“Fairs are often organized during the holidays at different locations in Brazzaville, but this one is special because it focuses on a single issue, AIDS, a disease that affects everyone. Hopefully there will be more of these events so that we will be able to complement the lessons learned in class,” said one young participant.

The fairs demonstrated keen interest in advanced testing strategies that seek to bring testing services to the population.

In Brazzaville for example, on average over a thousand people visited the fair each day. The total number of adults and children participating in the fair was estimated at 13,250 people. 653 people submitted to voluntary HIV testing during the fair, and the results collection rate was 99.7 percent.

In Pointe-Noire, the number of visitors ranged between 1,438 and 4,048 per day. 841 people underwent voluntary testing, with a results collection rate of 93.2 percent.

In both locations, children under 15 represented 60 percent of the visitors.

At the end of the Fair, the Executive Secretary of the CNLS called on the young people to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills during the rest of their holidays, in order to avoid exposure to the risks of unwanted pregnancies, infection with HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections.

“I therefore ask you to commit… behave in such a way that AIDS does not affect any one of you, in order not to jeopardize the future prospects of our nation as a whole. You must remain vigilant, so that you can identify risky situations in time and therefore avoid them,” said Ms. Francke Puruehnce.

The two KERSIVACs provided an opportunity to strengthen the public-private sector partnership to combat HIV/AIDS. In the future, these could be used as events that help to identify young leaders who could eventually be trained as peer-educators or social communicators.

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