Feature story

Yemen: raising HIV awareness among internally displaced populations

07 February 2013

Community leaders representing internally displaced people meeting with representatives from the NGO, UN and government.

As the pressure for better living conditions rises in the camps in the Harad district of Yemen—Community leaders representing internally displaced people are meeting more regularly “We are 10 people in my tent; we have been waiting for new supplies to arrive, why the delay?” said one of the leaders.

The Harad camps host more than 130 000 people affected by long civil unrest in Yemen. To survive, many people walk the seven kilometres to the boarder of Saudi Arabia, hoping to cross into a country that is seen as having more economic opportunities. Others rely on daily wages from jobs at construction, agriculture and fishing sites and yet many people depend on the food provided by host local community.

But most people are not aware of their increased vulnerability to HIV infection as they sometimes resort to high-risk behaviors to meet their basic needs.

Local authorities are concerned about the lack of HIV information and have partnered with UNAIDS and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to start an HIV awareness raising programme for displaced people.

We must promote the integration of HIV and gender-based violence activities in the overall humanitarian programme

United Nations Resident Coordinator for Yemen Ismail OuldCheikh Ahmed

“We know that HIV is escalating and can grow into a major epidemic—as we have seen this happen in other countries,” said Dr Majed Al Gonaid, Deputy Minister of Health. 

Funded by OCHA, the programme is being carried out by the local NGOs Women Association for Sustainable Development (WSAD) and the For All Foundation for Development in partnership with the UNAIDS country coordinator.

The programme consists of awareness-raising sessions on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and life skills to enable young people living in the camps to protect themselves from HIV. Also, as part of the programme, 20 male and female youth peer educators from the camps as well as the host communities will be trained on HIV prevention. Sensitization sessions with religious and community leaders and local council members will also be conducted to eliminate the stigma and discrimination as well as the gender based violence faced by people in the camps. Finally, HIV voluntary counselling and testing services will be provided jointly with the awareness raising activities.

“Such initiatives should be taking place in all humanitarian programmes,” emphasized Renu Chahil-Graf, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for the Middle-East and North Africa. “We hope that it will be seen as a best practice so that we don’t need to wait—for peace to arrive to provide HIV services.”

Integrating HIV in the humanitarian response

The United Nations Resident Coordinator for Yemen Ismail OuldCheikh Ahmed has been advocating for attention to be paid to HIV. “We must promote the integration of HIV and gender-based violence activities in the overall humanitarian programme,” he said.

L to R: Ms Sabah Badri, Chair of NGO For All Foundation, Dr Renu Chahil-Graf, UNAIDS Middle East and North Africa Regional Director and Mr Khaled Marh, Assistant Director of the camp.

 A report on AIDS, Security and Humanitarian Response presented at the 30th UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (June 2012) highlights that a major objective of the work of UNAIDS, its Cosponsors and partners in supporting the HIV response in humanitarian emergencies has been mainstreaming AIDS into the overall humanitarian intervention, integrating it as a cross-cutting issue. The report raises a number of concerns that governments and organizations need to take into account, such as providing refugees and internally displaced people with continued access to antiretroviral therapy and HIV prevention services, as well as strategies which deal with broader issues like gender-based violence.