By Manuel Moreno Gonzalez N’DJAMENA, Chad, 1 December 2014 – 16-year-old Mani Djelassem Virgille stood confidently in a packed auditorium whilst addressing the Chadian nation as the recently appointed Youth Advocate for adolescents in the fight against AIDS.
“It is both an honor but also a great responsibility that I am prepared to carry the torch for the well-being of children and young people of my country,” she said in front of national television and more than 3,000 people who attended the World AIDS Day official ceremony in Chad´s capital, N´Djamena.
“I would humbly assure you that I will give the best of myself to be a worthy Youth Advocate. I promise to be a role model and to be an example through my academic performance and behaviour,” she added.
The First Lady of the Republic of Chad, Mrs Hinda Deby Itno, accompanied by several heads of agency of the United Nations in Chad, including UNICEF, WHO, UNAIDS and UNFPA and national associations fighting against HIV and AIDS officiated at this event. A number of activities took place, the highlight being the nomination of young Mani and, therefore, the delivery of her message.
“Like many millions of children around the world, I was infected with the HIV virus at birth. This infection was detected early and I therefore received the appropiated support. I was fortunate to frequently attend the Djenandoum Naasson Centre where I found medical, psychosocial and peer support with children and adolescents in the same situation as me. Thanks to this, I am pleased to be here with you today.”
Mani lost her mother at a very tender age due to the HIV virus. She was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and lived with her father Djelassem Sakor until she was 11 years old, when the family decided she should move to Chad to stay with his father’s brother and current guardian Djelassem Sakor. When she arrived to Moundou, a village located in southern Chad, she started to attend the UNICEF-supported Djenandoum Naasson Centre, which provided the necessary support and care she needed.
The Chadian government and its partners have made significant progress to provide free AIDS treatment and access to health care services for people living with HIV throughout the country. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of people receiving treatment has tripled, yet there is a need to reinforced planning of national HIV strategies and policies to target children and adolescent.
“We must do everything so that all the children of Chad and the world have the chance I had. This will only be possible if we work together to prevent transmission of HIV from mother-to-child, to prevent new HIV infections among young people and encourage them to get tested to know their HIV status,” she stated.
Mani will be working during 2015 with UNICEF to support Government’s effort in the fight against the virus and also to advocate for the rights of people and adolescents living with HIV.
“We must also fight against the stigmatization of people living with HIV. We carry the virus, of course, but we are people like you, we have the same rights and duties. One of our priorities will be to work with adolescents and young people living with HIV to ensure their empowerment and giving them confidence to face life,” she concluded.