People in the Nuba Mountains have lived a sheltered existence for the past 20 years. The war in this region of Southern Kordofan, south-central Sudan, had sealed the area off from the outside world.
This has been a mixed blessing of sorts. Chronic underdevelopment and conflict have crippled the already inadequate infrastructure and access to basic education and health-care has been severely restricted.
Unwittingly, the estimated population of up to 500,000 people has been protected from the spread of HIV/AIDS.
But Nuba's shield against the disease is starting to break down. The January 2002 Nuba Mountains ceasefire between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) survived its first year and, despite some tense moments, was renewed by the parties in January 2003 for a further six months.
The relative stability has been marked by a growing number of returnees coming back to the area. Soon, traders and visitors – many of them coming from areas with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS - will also be able to move freely, fuelling the spread of the epidemic in the Nuba Mountains.
"There is no doubt that it [HIV/AIDS] is going to be a problem. Nuba is very vulnerable and undernourished. What will happen when it is suddenly exposed?" asked Inger LundeDalen, Nuba Mountains field coordinator for Norwegian Church Aid.
One of the region's weakness is a poor health-delivery system. This small clinic situated half-an-hour's drive away from the SPLM base of Lweri, treats up to 1,300 people a month. Most of the patients are suffering from malaria.
Botol Ramadan is a young mother who walked for three hours, climbing the Kumrdy hill, to get to the clinic. Her two-year old daughter, Tabitha, has a fever and has been coughing for the past three days. With her husband working in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Ramadan is responsible for cultivating the family's fields. She has never heard of HIV/AIDS, let alone seen a condom.
Accoding to a report issued in June after the region's first HIV/AIDS awareness workshop, "HIV/AIDS awareness in the region is nonexistent." A shopkeeper in Kauda has no condoms available and has never heard of them. The buzzing market in Chawre displays all kinds of wares – razor blades, plastic sandals and an array of fruit and vegetables – but no condoms.