Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health

HEALTH-BENIN: Growing Number of AIDS Orphans

Michee Boko

COTONOU, Aug 28 2002 (IPS) - Benin’s first national study of AIDS orphans has recorded a total of 42,000 children who have lost one or both parents to the killer disease.

Innocent Kpoton, of the Cotonou-based National Programme Against AIDS, says Benin’s “AIDS orphans are creating a new social class” in the country.

Statistics shows that since July 1985, the date the first AIDS case was diagnosed in Benin, the number of people infected with the virus has reached about 160,000. With an infection rate of 4.1 percent, the country’s caseload increases by about 45 each day, according to the National Programme Against AIDS.

If no action is taken to reduce the spread of the disease, about 246,000 Beninois will be HIV-carriers by 2006, it warns.

“This is a time bomb because, as more people living with AIDS die, more and more orphans are left in their wake. We, at the National Programme Against AIDS, are concerned about the increase in the number of orphans because, as their number grow, the future for them becomes more and more tenuous and care becomes increasingly burdensome,” Kpoton explains.

In 2001, the government earmarked 50 million CFA francs (around 70,000 U.S. dollars) to care for AIDS orphans. This amount was slashed by 10 million CFA francs (about 15,000 U.S. dollars) in 2002. As a result, the current budget û cut by the government – is not enough to meet the needs of the children orphaned by the disease, Kpoton says.

The money goes toward purchasing rice, milk, oil, sugar, blankets and school uniforms for the orphans. “We can only provide them with immediate necessities. What they need is more long-term support,” he notes.

“Benin has not made caring for AIDS orphans a priority,” says Dr. Cyriaque Affoukou of Racines (Roots), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which cares for the people living with HIV and AIDS.

A survey, conducted early this year on ‘Social Conditions of AIDS Orphans ‘, reveals that the children “are experiencing difficulty getting basic housing, food, clothing, medical care and education needs because the loss of one or both parents automatically cuts off their means of support,” says Affoukou.

If both parents die, sometimes extended families take the children in. But if the children are infected, they will be rejected. Children, who still have one living parent, suffer much more than those who have lost both parents, because the single parent, who is often the mother, go through a lot of discriminations by the society.

In May, a 47-year-old father of six died in Cotonou from an AIDS-related disease. His widow, who is also infected, must now single-handedly provide for the children. But she knows that she, too, will shortly die of the disease and her six children, of whom two have just barely reached puberty age, will be left to fend for themselves.

The family occasionally receives food packages from NGOs such as Racines, which is based in Cotonou. Racines has helped the woman obtain a loan to begin a small business, notes Epiphane Akpadja of Racines. But, Akapadja wonders what will become of the children when their mother dies.

“Theoretically, the children are supposed to fall under the state protection,” he says.

Affoukou suggests that a national care centre be established in Benin to look after the growing number of AIDS orphans.

Kpoton says his organisation “is in the process of developing a national policy to care for AIDS orphans, as well as enrol them in school and offer them job-training”.

NGOs and religious organisations, which are better connected to grassroots communities, will administer the programme, he says.

In Cotonou, Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow), an NGO, looks after 250 AIDS orphans, and the Ambulatory Care Centre takes care of 198. Other NGOs do similar work in the country’s larger cities, such as Porto-Novo, the country’s political capital, with very limited resources.

The government has appealed to the World Health Organisation, the UN Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Population Fund (UNPF) to help the orphans.

“In just ten years, the number of AIDS orphans living on the street has increased four-fold. And this is just the beginning,” warns Kpoton.

“We must not allow these children to become delinquents,” adds Dr. Alphonse Gbaguidi, coordinator of the National Programme Against AIDS.

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