SOMALIA: Commission to coordinate anti-HIV/AIDS efforts in Puntland
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
HARGEYSA, 18 October (PLUSNEWS) - Authorities in Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, northeastern Somalia, launched on Saturday a commission to coordinate efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The Puntland AIDS Commission (PAC) was established under the office of the president as a multisectoral partnership comprised of six ministries, civil society organisations, religious leaders and representatives of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
"Prevention is our most powerful tool to address this epidemic," Puntland's acting President, Hasan Dahir, said during the launch. "It remains critical that we continue to prioritise prevention through promoting awareness on life skills and HIV/AIDS education, while also directly addressing behaviour change."
Elballa Hagona, UN Development Programme country director for Somalia, applauded the acting president's decision to embark on an HIV/AIDS prevention campaign while infection rates in the region were relatively low.
A sentinel surveillance study carried out by the UN World Health Organization and Puntland's health ministry in 2004 showed an overall average HIV prevalence rate of 1 percent among women attending antenatal clinics. The port town of Bossaso had a prevalence rate of 0.9 percent, while the rate was 1.4 percent in Galkaayo and 0.7 percent in Garowe.
"The multisectoral nature of the PAC in building partnerships with civil society, the private sector and recognizing the absolute crucial role of the religious leaders, is a proven major ingredient of success in countries that are making an impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic," Hagona said.
"We must transform the Islamic principles and teachings into practices, especially with regards to value for life and caring for each other, especially infected women," he added.
Christian Balslev-Olesen, UNICEF representative for Somalia, underlined the importance of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, women and young people. He added that PAC programmes would have to be proactive in addressing the potential rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.
Leo Kenny, UNAIDS country coordinator for Somalia, said it was necessary to build capacities of HIV/AIDS service providers immediately in order to strengthen their prevention, treatment, care and support efforts.
Julian Lambert, senior HIV/AIDS advisor for Britain's Department for International Development, spoke of the importance of bolstering basic health and education systems and making essential services accessible to everyone.