4 May 2011 - Two dozen participants, mainly former combatants, graduated today from a one-week HIV and AIDS peer educator course organized by UNMIS in Khartoum.
Participants of the course, which kicked off on 27 April, were drawn from previous ranks of the Sudan Armed Forces, Popular Defense Forces (PDF) or were HIV and AIDS counselors employed by the Ministry of Health at disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) sites.
The training targeted ex-combatants because "they can be key agents of change", said UNMIS HIV/AIDS section head Michael Munywoki, addressing the closing ceremony in Khartoum's Amarat neighbourhood.
According to a pre-course test, most participants previously had less than 50 per cent knowledge about HIV and AIDS-related matters. Following the training, half of them correctly answered 90 per cent of the test questions, said UNMIS HIV/AIDS training officer Ahmed Fadeel.
During the training, each participant created a work plan to further share knowledge about the disease and its prevention, and newly graduated peer educators would be gathering every month under UNMIS patronage to discuss experiences, Mr. Fadeel added.
"If (participants) implement their work plan and touch one person a day, within 30 days they will have touched the lives of more than 600 hundred people," Mr. Munywoki said, adding that awareness raising was each and every person's responsibility.
At the ceremony, participants enacted a role play portraying a realistic scenario -- a woman, who has tested HIV+, visits her cousin and wants to stay in her house but is rejected by the cousin's husband, who brands her a prostitute.
Thanks to the intervention of a peer educator, however, the husband's bias slowly dissolves and he learns that the virus does not spread by handshake, communal meals or mosquitoes.
As the drama illustrates, people living with HIV and AIDS are still strongly discriminated against in Sudan. According to participant and ex-PDF combatant Adam Abdallah, "If someone learns about a HIV+ person, he will want to send them far away."
Speaking about misconceptions, Mr. Abdallah noted that the majority in Sudan "think that the virus spreads only by sex". He added that he had learned much about possible ways of transmission and strategies to combat the virus during the peer educator course.
"The training was excellent," Ministry of Health HIV/AIDS counselor Rehab Khalafalla said. "I had attended many workshops but this training was different ... it was easy to understand transmission and treatment."
Ms. Khalafalla added that before she might have had difficulties in talking about strategies to fight HIV, including safe sex, but now she felt confident in talking about condom use.
"Today has made a difference to the Sudanese community," said representative of the North Sudan DDR Commission Mohammed Abdallah. "These people are going back to their communities with high standards of knowledge, and we expect the knowledge of the community to change and the stigma to be eliminated."
"Being HIV+ does not mean a death sentence," Mr. Abdallah added.
The training was organized as a collaboration of UNMIS HIV/AIDS section, UNMIS DDR and the North Sudan DDR Commission.
A similar course kicked off in Juba, Central Equatoria State, yesterday, and another is scheduled to be held in Kadugli, Southern Kordofan State, from 13 May.