Holding peer-led discussion groups in communities has contributed to a significant drop of HIV/AIDS transmission in Ethiopia. KMG-Ethiopia, a community-based advocacy organization, initiated community conversations to halt cultural practices that often lead to HIV/AIDS and other sexual health issues. According to KMG, practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage fuel HIV/AIDS.
According to KMG, “Young women are given away to men who are much older than themselves. Young women in these communities do not have a choice. This harmful practice violates young women’s rights to choice and freedom of association and puts them at risk of HIV and AIDS.”
By asking communities to elect peers for facilitator training, KMG said there are now 50 peer-led community conversations throughout Ethiopia that discuss basic facts about AIDS, relationship power structures, and negotiating condom use.
Ethiopia’s HIV transmission rates have dropped by 90 percent between 2001 and 2011, the largest drop in all African countries. Additionally, the country has seen a 53-percent drop in AIDS-related deaths, from 113,825 to 53, 831 people from 2005 to 2011. Due to KMG’s success, the government has recently added community conversations into its HIV/AIDS prevention strategy.
Persuading communities to let go of their traditions can be difficult, but after a trip to observe the Ethiopian community conversations, Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, noted that during the discussion groups, people would change their opinions about taboos and misunderstandings surrounding sex, HIV, and age-old practices like arranged marriages.
Dr. Moustapha Gueye, who first developed the method, took the idea to the United Nations Development Program, which then reached out to KMG to run a trial program in Ethiopia. KMG Founder Bogaletch Gebre won the first African Development Prize, sponsored by the Belgium-based King Baudouin Foundation, for her work on this project.