Rotarians in East Africa fight the spread of AIDS
Families wait in line to get tested during a Rotarians for Fighting AIDS event in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Marion Bunch
Rotarians in East Africa and a Rotarian Action Group dedicated to fighting the spread of AIDS will team up on 30 April to provide health services, counseling, and HIV testing to thousands of people in Kenya and Uganda.
The project is being coordinated by District 9200 (Eritrea; Ethiopia; Kenya; Tanzania; Uganda) and Rotarians for Fighting AIDS: a Rotarian Action Group. It is part of Rotarians at Work Day, which annually challenges clubs around the world to carry out hands-on service projects in their communities on the last Saturday in April.
"I wanted to do something spectacular that would cut across the district and reach into our communities," says Stephen Mwanje, governor of District 9200, who is helping to coordinate the event. "HIV/AIDS is the most serious health problem in these countries and the leading cause of death for adults. This day is about Rotary becoming more involved with this disease."
Throughout the district, thousands of Rotarians will volunteer at more than 225 testing sites. They will provide family counseling and testing for HIV, as well as for diabetes, breast cancer, and cervical cancer. Volunteers will also supply insecticide-treated bed nets, deworming tablets, and sanitary pads.
According to Marion Bunch, who founded Rotarians for Fighting AIDS, HIV testing carries a stigma in many parts of Africa, so the additional health services are being provided as an inducement. Volunteers will be tested as well to help dispel the stigma. In Ethiopia, Rotarians have funded a radio campaign to promote HIV awareness.
Two of the action group’s global partners, Family Health International and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, are providing technical support for the effort. The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation has donated US$100,000 for operational costs.
Bunch says Mwanje modeled the project after National Immunization Days (NIDs).
"Just like in the case of NIDs, Rotarians are mobilizing communities into action," she says. "They are finding local funding, getting the word out, and volunteering their time on the ground."
The day before the event, Mwanje will receive the action group's Jerome W. Schutz Hero Award, named in honor of Bunch's son, who died of AIDS in 1994.
The district governor "had the vision and courage to do something really big on Rotarians at Work Day," says Bunch. "We are honored to help his vision come true."
Mwanje says Rotary plays an important role in fighting HIV/AIDS.
"Rotarians are leaders and highly respected in their communities," he says. "Associating ourselves with fighting this scourge will make a very big impact."