SUDAN: First HIV/AIDS voluntary testing and counselling centre opens in Juba
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
NAIROBI, 11 February (PLUSNEWS) - Sudan's first free voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centre for HIV/AIDS is being established in Juba, a southern garrison town.
The centre would be fully up and running by the end of March, with possible testing available before that, Simona Seravesi, the HIV/AIDS inter-agency focal point in Juba, told IRIN. Meanwhile, the centre is being equipped, and guidelines written for six local counsellors, all of whom will have to be trained.
The initial emphasis would be on prevention, she added, with an emphasis on researching high-risk groups around Juba, as well as customs and beliefs helping to spread the virus. "There will not only be counselling within the VCT. We want to reach the whole community and outlying villages," she said.
If people tested positive they would be given information about health, nutrition, not spreading the virus, and be referred to local health centres and a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS, she said.
Supported by the Sudanese federal health ministry, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation, the VCT centre was officially opened on 28 January as part of the "Juba Initiative", which, it is hoped, will become a model for the whole of southern Sudan.
Various testing facilities are already available in Sudan, but usually cost US $10 per person - far beyond the means of most Sudanese.
To date, efforts to introduce VCTs in Sudan had been erratic and few, said Hind Hassan, the Sudan focal point with UNAIDS, mainly due to a lack of proper guidelines for counselling and testing, as well as the lack of trained personnel. "However this is changing now as Sudan is now embarking on a comprehensive national response to HIV/AIDS, and along with the existing high-level political commitment to back up this national response, many VCT's are planned to be established."
The estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Sudan is between 450,000 and 600,000, although the reported number is only 12,000. Southern Sudan was thought to have a higher prevalence than the north as a result of conflict, frequent movement across borders, severe economic disparity and poverty, said Hind.
Prevalence rates in Juba were not available, but among tea sellers, it was reckoned to be about 10 percent, he added.