AIDS pandemic on the rise

GUINEA: AIDS pandemic on the rise

CONAKRY, 22 Jul 2003 (PLUSNEWS) - AIDS is spreading rapidly in Guinea, where 2.8 per cent of the population are infected with the HIV virus, according to new research that has just been published by the government.

Statistics published in the official gazette following research by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) STAT-VIEW, show that 139,000 of Guinea's 7.5 million people have become carriers of the HIV virus and 20,000 have died of AIDS-related illnesses in the last 18 months.

The study projected that the number of people infected with HIV would double to 282,000 by 2010. It said the number of deaths related to AIDS would rise to 119,000 over the same period.

Commercial sex workers were identified as being the main carriers of the HIV virus. They constituted 42 percent of the infected population.

Other sectors showing above average rates of infection included bus and truck drivers, who accounted for seven percent of all HIV carriers in Guinea, miners, who accounted for a further seven percent and soldiers, who accounted for six percent.

The report said the main factors behind the spread of the HIV virus were unprotected sex, promiscuity, the migration of people from the countryside to the towns, poverty and the re-marriage of widows whose husbands had died of AIDS.

Infection rates were highest in the capital Conakry, where five percent of the population is estimated to be HIV positive. It was also above average in the Forest Region of eastern Guinea, where the main diamond mines and refugee camps for Ivorians and Liberians are situated. There, 3.5 percent of the population were thought to carry the killer virus.

The study said nearly 14,000 children had been orphaned by AIDS so far, but that figure was set to rise to almost 99,000 by 2010.

Dr Thierno Sulaiman Diallo, head of the AIDS evaluation department in the Ministry of Health, said US $22 million had been made available to fight the spread of AIDS. This mainly consisted of a $20 million soft loan from the World Bank.

Diallo said the money was being spent on two five-year projects. One aimed to extend the fight against AIDS across the whole country. The other aimed to raise awareness of the disease in key sectors of the population, particularly among young people, commercial vehicle drivers and miners.

According to Dr Andre Loua, director of the blood transfusion at the Donka hospital in Conakry, the number of blood donors has declined drastically in recent months because people have become reluctant to take an AIDS test before giving blood.

"We used to have 500 blood donors a day, but now we receive less than 10 persons per day," he said in a recent radio interview.

Loua said the majority of donors who had stopped giving blood were students.

Several students interviewed by IRIN said it was not the fear of being diagnosed HIV positive that stopped them from giving blood, but the fact that they received nothing in return.

"We've never received cash compensation for the blood we donate," one female university student said.

However, an official at the Health Ministry told IRIN that of some 136 students who recently volunteered to donate blood, 10 percent were found to be HIV positive.

"This is a serious and rapidly growing problem," he said.

The government is meanwhile negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to bring down the cost of anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS patients.

In 2001, a course of treatment cost about $466 per person per month, but a recent agreement with pharmaceutical companies reduced this to $103.

"We hope to reduce this to less than $52 per person per month before the end of the year", a health official told IRIN.

This however, is still well beyond the means of most Guineans. According to the World Bank, the country had a per capita income of just $410 in 2001.



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