Ethiopia strives to control HIV
AIDS: A U.S. nonprofit and the Ethiopian army have formed a partnership to promote the use of condoms and safer sexual practices, with encouraging results.
The seeds of this success began in 1997 when the Ethiopian
army began buying millions of condoms from DKT International, an American
organization that uses a technique called "social marketing" to fight
The result, according to UNAIDS, is a condom user rate of about 85 percent within the Ethiopian army. "We learned from the experience of armies in Uganda and Zimbabwe and other African nations that the time to combat AIDS is before the infection rate gets high," says Capt. Germachew Mamu, head of the Ethiopian army's HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Team. "There's no question that a key to keeping HIV under control across a nation is to keep it under control in the military." Sandra Gass, an American who is director of DKT operations in Ethiopia, says the good results have exceeded expectations. "When we began working in Ethiopia in 1990, it was nearly impossible to find a condom anywhere in the country," says Gass. "Now we sell 50 million a year, not just to the military, but all across Ethiopia." As for the army program, Gass says, "Our ability to provide a reliable supply of quality condoms at an affordable price, combined with the army's discipline for seeing that those condoms are distributed and used within their ranks, has had an impact that has other African armies paying attention."
The goal now, according to Germachew and others, is for the nation's demobilized soldiers to fan out across the country to their home communities and become models for millions of other Ethiopians, carrying the message and practice of safe sex. Such a strategy can succeed only if affordable condoms are available wherever the soldiers wind up, including rural areas, where 85 percent of Ethiopians live. "And that's the strength of DKT's work," says Vathani Amirthanayagam, a health specialist for the Ethiopia office of the United States Agency for International Development. "Through social marketing, condoms and information on how to use them are available for pennies even in the most remote villages. They're sold in kiosks and small pharmacies and outdoor markets. It's phenomenal."
As international attention and increased funding pour into Africa in light of the still-growing AIDS epidemic there, the success of DKT in reaching rural areas, plus its extraordinary partnership with the Ethiopian army, have convinced many observers that social marketing can and should play a very big role in the future fight against AIDS across the continent. "You can reach a larger number of people in a shorter period of time [with social marketing] than is usually the case with governments trying to directly do the work themselves through clinics and the like," says Timpo. "Socially marketed products just have more reach."
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