Africa Asia Middle East عربي Français Português Subscribe IRIN Site Map
Global HIV/AIDS news and analysis
Advanced search
 Saturday 23 February 2008
Weekly reports 
In-Depth reports 
Country profiles 
Fact files 
Really Simple Syndication Feeds 
About PlusNews 
Contact PlusNews 
Print report
CENTRAL AFRICA: HIV/AIDS a threat to indigenous forest communities

Photo: André Itoua/IRIN
Central Africa's pygmy populations have largely been isolated
IMPFONDO, 15 May 2007 (PlusNews) - The indigenous forest people of central Africa have been largely isolated from the rest of the world, but as they become more integrated into mainstream society the risk of sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS is a growing threat.

Central Africa's pygmy populations, numbering a total of 300,000 to 500,000 people, have lived as hunter-gatherers in the forests of Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the Republic of Congo (ROC) since time immemorial.

But the gradual encroachment of logging, farming and infrastructure projects, and the creation of protected areas, has forced them to abandon their traditional way of living and join the formal economy, working as casual labourers or on commercial farms.

This shift has brought them into closer contact with neighbouring ethnic communities whose HIV levels are generally higher. "Pygmy people must be seriously sensitised about HIV/AIDS," Sorel Eta, an ethnologist and researcher from ROC, told delegates at a recent conference in Impfondo, 800km north of the ROC capital, Brazzaville.

Studies in Cameroon and ROC in the 1980s and 1990s showed a lower prevalence of HIV in pygmy populations than among neighbouring ones, but recent increases have been recorded. One study found that the HIV prevalence among the Baka pygmies in eastern Cameroon went from 0.7 percent in 1993 to 4 percent in 2003.

Speakers at the conference noted that impoverished Twa pygmy women of communities in Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and elsewhere were turning to commercial sex work to make ends meet, but ignorance about the pandemic meant many were unaware of the dangers of unprotected sex.

"Almost all indigenous women in Burundi are illiterate ... ignorant of the fact that HIV/AIDS can also attack them," said Léonard Habimana, Burundi's first Twa journalist and the promoter of a private radio station, Radio Isanganiro, which educates people about the dangers of sexually transmitted infections, sexual violence and HIV/AIDS in pygmy communities.

"Because of poverty, sexual exploitation of indigenous women became a common fact," said Kapupu Diwa, head of a network of local and indigenous populations advocating for the sustainable management of forest ecosystems in central Africa. "It is in this environment that women sell sex for as little as US$0.20, or even biscuits."


Indigenous people living in the tropical rainforests of Central Africa are widely dispersed and identify their groups by a variety of names. IRIN/PlusNews recognises there are some who feel the term 'pygmy' is derogatory and perpetuates the ethnic stereotyping the community is trying to overcome, but, for want of an alternative generic term to refer to these communities, our report uses the term, 'pygmy'

Commercial sex work has also been bolstered by logging and infrastructure building, which often place large groups of transient labourers in camps set up in close proximity to pygmy communities.

A widely believed myth that sex with a Twa woman has the power to cleanse men of the HI virus places Twa women at additional risk. Human rights groups have also reported widespread sexual abuse of indigenous women in the conflict-ridden eastern DRC.

Despite these risks, pygmy populations generally have poor access to health services and information about HIV. In 2006, the British medical journal, The Lancet, published a study showing that the Twa consistently had worse access to healthcare than neighbouring communities.

According to the report, "Even where healthcare facilities exist, many people do not use them because they cannot pay for consultations and medicines, do not have the documents and identity cards needed to travel or obtain hospital treatment, or are subjected to humiliating and discriminatory treatment."


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Print report
FREE Subscriptions
Your e-mail address:

Submit your request
CENTRAL AFRICA: ADF funds to fight AIDS in four countries
CENTRAL AFRICA: ADF grants US $8.3 million to help region fight HIV/AIDS
CENTRAL AFRICA: New AIDS initiative for mobile populations
 More on HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)
AFRICA: IRIN/PlusNews Weekly Issue 375, 22 February 2008
BOTSWANA: Safari operators alleviating AIDS crisis
EGYPT: Taking aim at ignorance about HIV/AIDS
BOTSWANA: People living with HIV turn to homeopathy
KENYA: Blood donors encouraged to learn HIV status
Back | Home page

Services:  Africa | Asia | Middle East | Radio | Film & TV | Photo | E-mail subscription
Feedback · E-mail Webmaster · IRIN Terms & Conditions · Really Simple Syndication News Feeds · About PlusNews · Bookmark PlusNews · Donors

Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.