Dr. Kristen Cheney discusses OVC situation in Uganda

Dr. Cheney recently wrote "Pillars of the Nation."

Dr. Cheney recently wrote "Pillars of the Nation."

Dr. Kristen Cheney, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Dayton, spoke about the state of children in Uganda today in Bentley Hall.

Cheney’ speech was titled “Up from the Grassroots: How community-based care becomes national policy.” She explained how the Ugandan government first tackled AIDS/HIV as a medical and public health problem. However, it has recently focused on social consequences of AIDS, including the rising numbers of orphans and vulnerable children.

In most instances, community based organizations (CBOs) — not the government — make up the first line of response. As the orphan population exploded, secondary family members couldn’t help the orphans as much. Relatives were too strained to take of orphans. In my cases, a grandmother must do the work of child-rearing after her children’s death.

These CBOs often perform small interventions on behalf of children in their organizations. They tend to understand the local dynamics and cultural better than large nongovernmental organizations or international aid agencies. For example, there is so much stigma about AIDS in Uganda that people hesitated to take in orphans if their parents died from AIDS. Many actually think that those orphans have a 50 percent chance of being HIV positive. In reality, only 13 percent might be HIV positive from having had it transmitted in the womb because of the effective treatments options for mother to child transmission.

The CBOs understand these cultural situations, Cheney said. They know how things traditionally work and then can use that information to come up with solutions to help. Also, bigger organizations from outside the communities are often driven by mandates rather than what’s on the ground. The smaller groups are able to adapt to change quicker and have greater flexibility.

Cheney also discussed the effects of orphanages and the differences between children’s rights and needs-based approaches. However, Cheney ended by quoting a colleague at UNICEF: “What would happen if there’s no response? It’s not perfect, but if we don’t do it the suffering would be so much more.”

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