DJIBOUTI: Free ARVs distributed for the first time
DJIBOUTI, 11 March (PLUSNEWS) - Some 40 HIV-positive people on Tuesday began to receive free antiretrovirals (ARVs) after Health Minister Muhammad Ali Kamil launched Djibouti's first distribution of ARV medication at Peltier Hospital, the country's main medical centre.
Medical staff at the hospital told PlusNews that the treatment was started through a donor-funded programme called Global Care for People Living with AIDS (Prise en charge globale des personnes vivant avec le SIDA).
In addition to contributions from numerous donor countries and UN agencies - UNAIDS in particular - the IMF provided the Djibouti government with US $12 million in support of the initiative.
According to Kamil, one in 20 youths in Djibouti is HIV-positive. "While not mandatory, out of those who have chosen to be tested, at least 8,000 people have been found to be HIV-positive, while an estimated 10,000 others are HIV-positive and do not know it," he said at the launch.
According to Denis Matera, a French doctor working at Peltier Hospital, the rate of HIV prevalence in the seaside capital, Djibouti-ville, where half the nation's population are concentrated, is about 5 percent.
"This is very worrisome," he told PlusNews. "The prevalence rate in other districts of the country is no greater than 1 percent."
National health authorities estimate that the HIV prevalence rate country-wide is about 3 percent of a total population of some 600,000. The disease is primarily spread - in an estimated 90 percent of the cases - through sexual contact.
According to the authorities, several factors have contributed to the alarming spread of the pandemic, including the high concentration of the population in the capital, and an illiteracy rate of 49 percent of Djiboutians, many of whom live below the poverty line.
Djibouti also hosts a significant number of military bases, which has encouraged the proliferation of bars and nightclubs, the authorities say. The authorities add that Djibouti has been a relatively peaceful oasis in an otherwise turbulent region, and has found itself hosting thousands of refugees fleeing conflict throughout the Horn of Africa.
Many of the refugees are drawn to Djibouti by an economy fuelled by the presence of Western expatriates, which has likewise encouraged impoverished young women to resort to prostitution.
It is also believed that the large-scale arrival of transporters from Ethiopia since May 1998, when Addis-Ababa was forced to seek a new seaport when its conflict with Eritrea broke out, has also contributed to the spread of HIV.