UN Volunteers funds NGO programme to sensitise Pygmies on HIV/AIDS

The United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) has financed a training programme, undertaken by an NGO in the Central African Republic (CAR), to sensitise the Batwa, or pygmies, on protection against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The UNV programme officer in the CAR, Amadou Diallo, told IRIN on Saturday that 53 pygmies took part in the US $1,000-training programme that was held from 17 to 20 March in the town of Pissa, 80 km southwest of the capital, Bangui.

The Organisation des Volontaires pour le Development en Centrafrique (OVDC) conducted the training in three centres - Bokanga, Banda and Sangala - where the pygmies learnt how to use male and female condoms as a means of protection against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

During the training, the UNV and the OVDC distributed cartons of condoms to the pygmies.

"I can now use a condom correctly, although it reduces pleasure," Henri Yenda, the 35 year old chief of Bokanga village, told IRIN on Saturday. "I'll keep using it, I have to protect myself."

Some 450 pygmies live in Pissa, according to a population census carried out in the CAR from 8 to 22 December 2003. The pygmies are minority group and risk being wiped out if HIV/AIDS spreads among them.

"As part of our agenda, we visited the Beka pygmies of Pissa and found out that they were totally ignorant of HIV/AIDS," Catherine Kezza, the OVDC coordinator, said.

She added that only one HIV-AIDS-related death, that of a young pygmy woman, was reported a few months ago in village of Bimo in Pissa.

The CAR is among the most HIV/AIDS-affected African countries, with 15 percent of its population affected.

Several HIV/AIDS sensitisation programmes have been carried out in Bangui and in some provinces but the pygmies were not part of the target groups. The OVDC's programme was the first time that an NGO, supported by the UNV, sensitised the Pissa pygmies on the HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as other STDs.