On May 7, Africare marked World AIDS Orphans Day - a day that brings attention to those who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.
According to a 2009 report from UNAIDS, there are an estimated 19 million AIDS orphans worldwide. What you may find surprising is that of those 19 million orphans; 15.3 million (81 percent) reside in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Historically, orphaned children, in Africa, were easily assimilated into their extended families of aunts, uncles and grandparents or with neighbors in the communities in which they live. Today, the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS is destroying the fragile branches of family trees, and leaving communities decimated with minimal resources to care for the children who are now more susceptible to being victims of exploitation, abuse, trafficking, poor health as well as the HIV virus itself.
Despite the hardship, those communities – in keeping with tradition – play an essential role in ensuring orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their families receive appropriate health and social services.
Africare is responding to the challenges faced by communities struggling to care for Africa’s growing population of AIDS orphans. For example, Africare, a little over ten-years ago, developed the Community-Based Orphan Care, Protection and Empowerment for Children (COPE) project, an OVC program that uses a family-centered and community-based approach to provide for and protect the children in their own environment. COPE focuses on building a community’s capacity by identifying and engaging local volunteers and service providers, encouraging an atmosphere of “shared responsibility.”
The COPE model is currently implemented in nine African countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. As a result, over 500,000 orphans have been reached through the utilization of three or more basic services.
Also, in several of these countries, Africare, in part based on our experience, was asked to play a key role in developing the national guidelines for OVC service provisions; and earlier this year, the guidelines created for Tanzania were rolled out nationwide by the Tanzanian government and are expected to gradually improve the quality of services for over 2 million of the country’s OVC as more funding becomes available.
Today, the funds allocated to support orphans and vulnerable children are provided by both the governments themselves and by donors; but are only enough to reach a small percentage of children that need assistance. Given the evidence that strong, healthy families and communities significantly facilitate the delivery of vital social services to the greatest number of children, it is imperative that these communities are equipped with the tools that will allow them to continue to serve in this critical function. If keeping a child in their community creates the best scenario for keeping a child alive and thriving, then investing in communities is key to taking care of the next generation of leaders.
Africare is committed to doing just that! Pass It On!