Gov't says HIV prevalence stabilising

ERITREA: Gov't says HIV prevalence stabilising

NAIROBI, 21 Oct 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - The HIV prevalence in Eritrea has shown a slight decline over the past few years and appears to have stabilised, with survey results showing that the unweighted national prevalence rate has fallen from 2.8 percent in 2001 to 2.4 percent last year, a government official told PlusNews on Tuesday.

"We have adopted a multi-sectoral approach to prevention that involves communities, the private sector, United Nations agencies and other bilateral organizations," Andeberhan Tesfazion, the director of the Eritrean National HIV/AIDS/STI and TB Control Divison (NATCoD) said. "Every partner is guided by the national plan."

According to the findings of an HIV surveillance report conducted by the Ministry of Health in all six zones of Eritrea between April and July 2003, prevalence rates were highest in the Southern Red Sea (7.2 percent) and Maekel (3.6 percent) zones. It said women aged 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 years had higher-than-average rates of infection, and prevalence was higher among pregnant women in urban areas than those in rural areas.

"Overall HIV prevalence appears to be stabilising," the report said. "Thus far, the country has been able to avoid a full-scale epidemic in rural areas."

Before the 2003 assessment, a number of attempts to generate data had been made. The report said in 1994, an HIV surveillance activity carried out in the capital city, Asmara, indicated a prevalence of three percent, while another study in 1997 among pregnant women found a rate of two percent. In 2001, the Health Ministry conducted another survey which found a prevalence rate of 2.8 percent.

"One of the factors that has helped stabilise the prevalence is government commitment and coordination," Andeberhan said. "As a sign of that commitment, we have been able to get a US $40 million soft loan from the World Bank - the greater part for HIV/AIDS and STIs [sexually transmitted infections]. We have also developed a communication strategy that is leading to behavioural change," he added.

The first AIDS case in Eritrea was reported in 1988. By 2001, more than 13,000 people had been registered as infected. About 2,500 of these cases were reported in 2001 alone. Since then, the government has embarked on programmes to fight the epidemic including setting up "free-standing" HIV testing facilities.

It also established the NATCoD to coordinate and improve the treatment and management of the various diseases. Eritrea has since built a new national blood bank in Asmara and has developed a life-skills curriculum for schools, which encompasses AIDS education. Radio and television, as well as posters and leaflets, have been used extensively around the country.


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