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Angélique Kidjo: Children First, HIV fight, Africa

Angélique Kidjo calls for ‘Children First’ in the fight against HIV in Africa

Meeting with orphans in Kenya, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo called for efforts to make drugs accessible for HIV-infected children and changes in attitude necessary to foster prevention.

The three-time Grammy nominated singer from Benin made her comments while spending time with children at the Githogoro Community Outreach Programme as they queued for medication and received their vaccinations. There, she met six-year-old, Veronica, whose mother had just been informed that her daughter is infected with HIV.

While holding Veronica, Ms. Kidjo became emotional, “I just want to cry, but I can’t because we have to keep hope going,” she said. “We need the drugs to be free or cheap enough to afford. Our governments need to be behind us and help, or 10 years from now they will see the results of this.”

She emphasized the need to protect – and not blame – the victims. “It is not their fault that they are infected. HIV is not a curse, children just need treatment and for us to invest in their lives and education to help them become adults with a better future,” Ms. Kidjo added.

“This is one reason we need ARVs [antiretroviral medications], for children such as these, for such situations,” she said. “We need to keep the future of this continent going. The drugs need to reach everywhere in Africa. If we cannot prevent HIV, the only solution is a cure, and both go hand in hand. AIDS does not have a cure but drugs give hope.”

Of the more than 1.2 million HIV-infected Kenyans, at least 100,000 are children under age 15, and because of high levels of poverty, most HIV-affected children in poor areas like Githogoro cannot access quality health care or receive proper nutrition. With a population estimated at over 20,000, half of which are children under the age of 12, for many families in Githogoro, a slum district of Nairobi, the outreach clinic is the only chance they have any form of medical treatment or immunization.

Ms. Kidjo also spent time with children orphaned by AIDS or abandoned by their families because of their HIV status at the Paediatric AIDS Clinic. Located at Kenya’s Gertrude’s Garden Children’s Hospital – which supports the Githogoro project, it has thus far, enrolled 130 HIV-positive children, 117 of whom are on ARVs.

Ms. Kidjo stressed her message to Africa – a message of prevention, a warning about lifestyles that can contribute to the spread of HIV, and the devastating impact of the disease on children and famillies.

“Africa needs to know that prevention is the better way, people need to be careful,” she said. For women whose cultures make it difficult to avoid unprotected sex, she added, access to ARVs is critical. “Let us get out priorities right and not judge them,” asserted Ms. Kidjo. “Let us fight AIDS first, then talk of morality,”

She left the children with an imperative call to action, “Mtoto Kwanza” – Swahili for “Children First,” also the title of a song she dedicated to UNICEF on her latest album ‘Oyaya!’

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