By NBF News
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Akwa Ibom State Government has described as worrisome the reported increase in the HIV/AIDS prevalence in the state and has vowed to redouble its effort to win the war against the virus.

Governor Godswill Akpabio, who made the pledge at the inauguration of Out-of-School Youths HIV/AIDS project sponsored by UNICEF and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) over the weekend, disclosed that such effort would include the repackaging of the State action Committee on AIDS (SACA) to make it more dynamic and proactive as a vehicle to fight against the virus in the state.

Akpabio whose address was delivered by an officer in the deputy governor's office, Mr. David Umoh, said the UNICEF/NYSC out-of-school youth HIV/AIDS project, which was aimed at behavioural change among the youths in the state, would not only mark a new dimension in the fight against HIV/AIDS but would also help to scale up the HIV/AIDS activities in the state.

'It is gratifying to note that the initiative came after an organised research work and studies conducted in the state by UNICEF through the NYSC to determine the drivers of the virus and the vulnerable group, in which the out-of-school youth was indentified. There is no gainsaying that the outcome of the study as confirmed by the as the victims in this regard are not out of place.

'I therefore urge all to join hands with the state government and together we shall realise the dream of making Akwa Ibom State an HIV/AIDS free state,' the governor said. The state Co-ordinator of NYSC, Mr. Aniefiok Okpongette said NYSC and UNICEF had since 2003 formed partnership to fight the scourge through their Adolescent Reproductive Health/HIV/AIDS Prevention Care and Support project, which was targeted at in-school youths through the NYSC Peer Education Training (PET) programme.

Despite the great work done by the programme, he said the virus continued to increase among the youths forcing NYSC and UNICF to conduct the participatory action research and map out youth resource centre to establish the major drivers of the virus and the vulnerable groups.

'The outcome of the studies gave rise to the conception of the idea to extend the coverage of the PET programme to out-of-school youths. In view of this, two local government areas in the state known for their high prevalence from studies conducted in the state, namely, Ikono and Oron were chosen to pilot the project.' Okpongette said the project involves PET but using Peer Education Plus (PEP) model; competitive sports and games such as football, volleyball and others or wrestling; arts, crafts, fashion exhibition; radio drama on radio stations in the state, GSM toll free phone calls, and others.

In his remarks, the Chief of Field Office UNICEF 'A' Field Enugu, Mr. Charles Nzuki, said in recognition of the need to intensify the prevention effort, the project was conceptualised to focus on using radio drama to provide comprehensive HIV prevention information, life skills and referral for services to out-of-school young people.

'Drama has been found to have the ability to reach several audiences and it has also been shown to facilitate behaviour change. This intervention is intended to complement and build upon the HIV/AIDS prevention through the NYSC scheme, ' Nzuki said.