One of the pressing issues in the North West region of Cameroon, where agriculture play a principal role in income generating, is health. According to the National Demographic Survey of 2004, the HIV prevalence in Cameroon was 5.5% of the total 2 million inhabitants, with the North West region having the highest prevalence of 8.7% of the total 19.4 million inhabitants.
Within the framework of the Project "Promotion of Sustainable Production of Arabica Coffee" in the North West Region, our project partner OLAM Cameroon is sponsoring HIV sensitization and voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) in the region. This activity, executed by the Regional Technical Group for the fight against HIV/AIDS, aims at building HIV resilience at the grassroots level of rural farm communities to mitigate the spread and impact of HIV through providing HIV education to the farmers, offering Voluntary Counseling and Testing and referring HIV positive cases to health facilities for management.
Implemented in two phases (one in December 2011 and the other in January 2012), VCT has tested 4,831 persons, of which 58% and 55% were female in the first and second phase respectively. Children make 16% and 45% of the total tested in the first and the second phase respectively.
"Based on our expectations before the exercise I would say it was a huge success. In most villages, far more people than we had expected came with their children insisting that their children also get tested" - said Austin Kidzeru, Project Manager.
This is the first time a free HIV/AIDS testing campaign was offered to the communities in the North West Region. The campaign was highly appreciated not only by the farmers themselves but also by local authorities. For many of the local farmers this was an unique opportunity because 75% of the villages are in a long distance from any testing center, which makes it difficult for the farmers to access the service even if they want to pay for it.
Testing results show quite high prevalence rates: in the first phase 3.6% of the females were diagnosed with HIV, against 4.0% of the males, with 2.8% and 1.9% respectively in the second phase. These are significant lower rates of infection when compared to the National Demographic Survey in 2004, which were 6.8% and 4.1% for women and men respectively. There is still a lot to do and helping the local farmers to know about their own status is an important step in preventing the transmission of HIV and to stimulate people to find treatment in the local HIV/AIDS centres. To this end, the success from this campaign set a very good example for other organizations working in the region. HIV/AIDS should be taken into consideration as important element of work and productivity because untreated HIV infections will affect the families' labour availability and thereby their agricultural productivity and income.