Source: UNMISS - United Nations Mission in South Sudan
A trainer explains how correct and consistent use of condoms can prevent HIV infections.
36-year-old Raja resident Adam Arkangelo resolved to accept his new HIV status. He had tested positive at Raja Hospital, but couldn’t tell where and how he got infected with HIV – the virus that causes AIDS.
Coming from a well-respected family background, Adam felt embarrassed by his new discovery, but his friends stuck with him.
‘’My friends are encouraging and supporting me day and night. I don’t feel isolated,’’ Adam narrated emotionally. ‘’I am encouraged to live with HIV. I live a normal life now, having accepted my status, and follow the doctor’s instructions,’’ he said.
Adam is one of the many Raja residents who have found themselves confronting the spread of the HIV epidemic among young people. Located on a transit route between Wau and Sudan, Raja has always been the lodging place for travellers who make a few days’ stop before embarking on their long, exacting cross-border journeys. Like in many such transit towns, this creates the perfect conditions for casual sex and the attendant spread of HIV.
To help stop the spread of the virus, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s HIV/AIDS Unit conducted a training and sensitization programme to both health workers and residents of Raja town.
‘’I learnt a lot about HIV; how it is transmitted from one person to another,’’ asserted 47-year-old Maria Santino Bakhit, a registered nurse in Raja Hospital. ‘’I need more of these trainings to know HIV/AIDS, so that I can spread information to those who don’t know,’’ she added.
Raja Hospital Medical Director Doctor Jackline Elia attributes the high prevalence of HIV to stigma and lack of knowledge.
‘’Culture and shame are keeping people away from voluntary testing and counselling,’’ said Dr. Elia. ‘’The hospital has now come up with a policy that every pregnant woman who comes for antenatal care must bring her spouse for testing,’’ she added.
Dr. Elia manages Adam’s HIV treatment, and she is impressed by his attitude and willingness to come out as a person living with HIV, and sees him as a role model to other area residents.
Still, the Raja Hospital management has recorded higher rates of HIV infection this year than in previous years, which is a concern for health officials like Dr. Elia.
Religious and cultural beliefs make the fight against the spread of HIV in Raja and other parts of South Sudan an uphill task, as some people associate the use of condoms with prostitution or the promotion of transactional sex.
‘’I had not seen a condom in my entire life,’’ testified 20-year-old Peter Idris Modir after seeing one for the first time. ‘’I have learnt how to protect myself and others from HIV by using a condom correctly,’’ Peter encouragingly concluded.
The situation is not helped by the fact that access to treatment by people living with HIV remains a challenge, as the town is cut off during the rainy season when bad roads make it hard for supplies, including testing kits, to come in from Wau.