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African CUs activists continue fighting HIVAIDS
KISUMU, Kenya (12/1/08)--A member of Mwalimu Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) in western Kenya is spearheading efforts by one of Kenya's largest credit unions to increase HIV/AIDS awareness and understanding among his fellow members. Today is World AIDS Day 2008.
George Musingo, a member of Mwalimu Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO), Kenya, and other activists are helping the world become aware of HIV/AIDs issues. Today is World AIDS Day 2008. (Photo provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
George Musingo is an English teacher at Day Secondary School. A father of five, Musingo holds credentials in religious studies and is pursuing a master’s degree in literature. He is also HIV-positive, a condition he discovered in 2000 after his wife died from the disease and left him to raise their five children alone. Since then, Musingo has undertaken a second master’s degree to explore the impact that HIV-positive disclosure has on the educational community. He also maintains his peer leader position at Mwalimu, one of the Kenyan SACCOs supported by World Council of Credit Unions’ (WOCCU) development efforts. “I have become an HIV/AIDS activist to save the teaching community in Kenya from the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease,” said Musingo, one of three HIV/AIDS peer leaders who spoke at WOCCU’s African SACCO Technical Conference at Banjul, The Gambia in October. “It would be my joy if HIV/AIDS sufferers could die in dignity, rather than in denial.” Musingo is one of many such peer educators involved in Kenya's “Mwalimu Stop AIDS” program, which attempts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS through member education and advocacy. More members are reportedly listening and more of those afflicted by the pandemic are gaining access to critical anti-retroviral therapies used to combat the illness. As World AIDS Day 2008 dawns today, HIV/AIDS continues its deadly global spread at an alarming rate. At the end of 2007, an estimated 32.7 million people were infected by HIV/AIDS worldwide, according to a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The rise in the number of sufferers has slowed thanks to better education and increased access to drugs, with some three million new patients receiving critical antiretroviral therapy last year. Despite increased efforts, in 2007 an additional 2.5 million people contracted HIV/AIDS, and 2.1 million died from the disease. Roughly 68% of sufferers worldwide live in sub-Saharan African countries like Kenya. More than three million people in Kenya, including 16% of the adult population, are HIV-positive. Kenya is one of eight countries worldwide that has seen an increase in the total number of HIV/AIDS cases during the past year, according to UNAIDS statistics. “HIV/AIDS is a serious crisis in Kenya, and the majority of those who are HIV-positive do not know their status,” Musingo said. “Testing for HIV is only compulsory for mothers who have gone for antenatal care and criminals convicted of sexual offenses like rape. These forms of testing are a small percentage on which to base the national statistics.” WOCCU’s Cooperative Development Program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, supported the launch of an HIV/AIDS peer educator program with Mwalimu SACCO in 2006. The peer education model is based on the idea that groups of members acting as change agents and opinion leaders can be trained to effectively disseminate information and influence their communities. WOCCU and Mwalimu initiated the program in partnership with JHPIEGO, an international health organization affiliated with The Johns Hopkins University. Currently, the Mwalimu Stop AIDS program is supervised by three program managers who oversee the work of 24 peer leaders and 264 peer educators from seven of Kenya’s eight provinces. Additionally, 300 Mwalimu delegates (elected regional SACCO representatives) received introductory training on HIV/AIDS peer education in April 2008. “SACCOs are the hub of individuals’ economic development and almost all professionals and employees have savings programs,” Musingo said. “Life is about buying, selling, saving and saving well. SACCOs, therefore, become the best choice to disseminate this information because all people, including the poor, aspire to have formidable savings accounts.” Musingo was nominated in June by the Office of the President of Kenya to become a member of the National Platform for Risk Reduction. The Kenyan government is encouraging the population to be tested for HIV/AIDS and qualify for free diagnosis and treatment, he said, but the process is proceeding slowly. “In Kenya, there are many other activists, but most of them are women,” Musingo added. “Women are more honest and sincere about life than men. Professional men who are HIV/AIDS activists are very few.”
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