Peace Corps Training Targets AIDS in Africa

Peace Corps Training Targets AIDS in Africa

 

By Susan Okie, Washington Post- Wednesday, June 28, 2000

 

All Peace Corps volunteers now serving in Africa, as well as new recruits assigned to work on that continent, will be trained as

AIDS educators as part of a new effort to help Africans fight the epidemic, the organization announced yesterday.

 

The initiative marks the first time that the Peace Corps has decided to commit all volunteers in a region--not just those

specializing in health--to combating a specific disease. It reflects U.S. officials' deepening concern over the catastrophic impact

of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, where 22.5 million people have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

and 14 million have died.

 

"We know the best way to combat AIDS is by working at the community level," said Sandra Thurman, director of the White

House's Office of National AIDS Policy. "That is why I believe the Peace Corps is ideally suited to fight and to make a

difference."

 

Volunteers will work to improve AIDS awareness and prevention and to help communities address some of the social and

economic problems created by the epidemic, such as the need to grow food for people living with AIDS.

 

Peace Corps Director Mark L. Schneider said AIDS training will initially be provided to the 2,400 volunteers serving in 24

African countries and to another 1,200 volunteers to be sent there during each of the next two years. In addition, the Peace

Corps plans to send 50 new volunteers to eastern and southern Africa to work exclusively on AIDS-related projects. It also

hopes to recruit 200 former volunteers who served in Africa to return there as members of the Crisis Corps, working in AIDS

care and prevention for up to six months at a time.

 

The U.S. Agency for International Development has agreed to provide $1.5 million over the next five years to support the

initiative, said USAID Administrator J. Brady Anderson. Some funding will also come from the Bill and Melinda Gates

Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Schneider said. The program is to focus on Africa but will include

some AIDS-related activities on other continents.

 

In the audience at yesterday's news briefing were 29 new volunteers who are scheduled to leave today to begin Peace Corps

training in Mauritania, a West African country. Several expressed enthusiasm about the initiative.

 

Denise Cole, a prospective teacher, said she hopes the AIDS training will allow her "to provide more education to the children

and parents."

 

Karen Pilliod, who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1996 to 1998 in a village in Guinea, recalled that her initial

attempts to involve local people in discussions about AIDS fell flat. Many of them "maybe didn't believe that it existed or didn't

believe it was a problem for a rural village," she said.

 

So she began to focus on teen pregnancy, which the villagers agreed was a serious problem, and included AIDS education as

part of her effort to address it. "I found the discussions more fruitful," she said. "I believe that, from the Peace Corps, we can

make an impact with a disease that is really killing off a huge population of Africans."

 

In recent years, Crisis Corps volunteers have been dispatched as relief workers to the Caribbean and Latin America in the

wake of hurricanes and other natural disasters. "There is no more lethal and prolonged a natural disaster than HIV/AIDS,"

Schneider said.

 

2000 The Washington Post Company