The transmission of HIV into the Afar region of Ethiopia is directly linked to Ethiopia’s extreme poverty and under-development.
Approximately 1,000 trucks journey through the Afar region daily stopping at villages along the way. Women working along the truck routes, whose salaries as house girls or hotel staff are too meagre to support their families, often turn to the sex trade on the promise of quick money. Tiny villages of 800 have up to 200 engaging in sex work. The HIV prevalence amongst truck drivers is estimated to be as high as 50%.
It is only in the last 10 years that Afar people, pastoral youth in particular, have started to visit towns. They come to sell livestock at markets or pick up work in times of drought. Town culture is very different to the morally strict codes of Islam and Afar tradition they are used to. Once in towns, young Afar are consuming Kaat, an amphetamine leaf that affects rational decision making and reduces shame and embarrassment. With reduced inhibitions, they are engaging in promiscuous sexual activity.
The actions of these young men, combined with a lack of knowledge or understanding about HIV prevention generally, is putting their communities and women in particular at risk.
With Anglican Overseas Aid support, the Afar Pastoral Development Association (APDA) is developing a community response to HIV by working through traditional Afar community structures. The Project Coordinator and four Field Supervisors (two men and two women) are working with:
The program is facing some challenges:
However, the program is also seeing real progress:
Inspirational Australian nurse Valerie Browning lives and works with the nomadic Afar people of Ethiopia. Valerie established APDA with her Afar husband Ismael Ali Gardo, in order to tackle the enormous difficulties which the Afar people face.
Valerie has been described by the current affairs show 60 Minutes as one of Australia’s “unsung national treasures”.
To find out more about Valerie follow this link: