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ANGOLA: HIV infection rate for pregnant women at 2.8 percent

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

LUANDA, 3 December (PLUSNEWS) - The rate of HIV infection among pregnant women in Angola is 2.8 percent, half earlier estimates, according to a new national study.

A health ministry report covering all of Angola's 18 provinces found that the highest HIV rates were in southern Cunene (9 percent) and Cuando Cubango (4 percent), which border Namibia.

"The provinces neighbouring [on] countries with high prevalence, like Namibia ... have the highest rates of seroprevalence, and inland provinces that have been more protected by the effect of war have lower figures of prevalence," vice minister of health, Jose Van Dunem, said at the launch of the 2004 National Study of Seroprevalence in Pregnant Women.

At the other end of the scale were the coastal province of Kuanza Sul and central Bie, both with 0.7 percent prevalence, and Benguela with 0.9 percent. In Luanda province, which takes in the capital of Angola, the prevalence rate was an estimated 3.2 percent.

The study offered the newest official data to be released on the spread of the epidemic since 2002, which estimated the rate of infection at 5.5 percent.

"It's very good news but we cannot relax - we have to continue with prevention, voluntary counselling and testing," World Health Organisation spokesman Jose Caetano told PlusNews.

Van Dunem also warned against an over-optimistic interpretation of the figures, saying they should only be regarded as "a baseline".

He noted that Angola had a window of opportunity in which it could fight the spread of the epidemic that has wreaked devastation in other countries in the region.

"We must use this opportunity we have properly. The world is looking at us - and I think that, ... [just] as we have been able to achieve peace, we will also be able to win the fight against AIDS," he said.

Around a million people died in Angola's 27-year civil war and millions more were displaced, either internally or fleeing to neighbouring countries. Health officials say that, paradoxically, the conflict probably helped control the spread of HIV because it restricted the movement of people. But with the end of the war in 2002, people are once again free to move around the country, which could cause a rise in infections.

"We have no choice, we must all - government, civil society, church, mass media, people living with AIDS - everybody must join in this effort to shift the trend of this epidemic," said Van Dunem.

He added that people already infected with the virus could receive free antiretroviral therapy from the government.

"It is for everybody, free of charge. We can't forget that we have more than sixty percent of the population living below the poverty line, so we couldn't adopt a different policy," he said.

Although HIV-positive people seeking treatment currently had to come to Luanda, plans were afoot to open three new centres: in Huila province for southern Angola, Huambo for the centre and Malanje for the north and east of the country.

"We don't have enough laboratory support; we don't have enough technicians, so we must use properly the few resources we have, with some rationality in order to cover the whole country," Van Dunem said.


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