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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: French HIV/AIDS research agency offers help

A French research body, Agence Nationale de Recherche sur le Sida, is this week due to begin supporting services trying to minimise the spread of the herpes simplex virus (HVS) in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to an official of the agency.

"We have brought with us the materials worth 5,000 euros that are necessary for the beginning [of the project]," Dr Hicham Bouhlal, a researcher and head of the agency’s project, told PlusNews on Monday.

The CAR project, which will also be applied to the Ghanaian cities of Accra and Kumasi, would last two years and cost 400,000 euros (about US $381,000). It would consist of taking blood samples, analysing them in local laboratories and sending those needing analysis by advanced technology to France or Canada.

HVS is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) causing lesions and ulcers on the margins of the lips and nostrils and on the genitals. It also facilitates the transmission of HIV. There are still no statistics on the number of people infected with HVS in the CAR.

"HSV is widespread in central Africa, and we realised that where its rate was high the HIV one was high too," Bouhlal said.

In the CAR, the French HIV/AIDS research body will train five people in taking blood samples, preparing and analysing them and gathering statistics. The project will collaborate closely with the STD services within the health ministry and the University of Bangui's medical faculty.

Meanwhile, a seminar to update 35 CAR doctors on HIV/AIDS has been taking place in the capital, Bangui, since Monday. "This is a seminar of actualisation on retroserology, which will be followed by another one in March on antiretroviral drugs," Prof Laurent Belec of the Hopital Europeen Georges Pompidou in Paris told PlusNews on Monday.

Belec heads a French anti-HIV/AIDS NGO called Hanuman, which organised the two-day seminar in partnership with the CAR health ministry and the World AIDS Foundation.

"We have been discussing access to HIV treatment, infection through sex and through breast milk, as well as the April 2002 WHO [World Health Organisation] guidelines, which needed explaining," he said. Belec went on to say that provincial doctors would later join the physicians at the seminar, who were all from Bangui.

With 14 percent of its population HIV positive, the CAR is the most HIV-affected nation in the subregion.

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