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ANGOLA: Irish NGO calls for increased AIDS prevention

The voluntary counselling and HIV testing clinic run by the Irish development agency, GOAL, in Angola's capital, Luanda, is always busy. The simple chairs in the waiting room are occupied by people from all walks of life.

Dr Eduardo Fulai, the supervisor at the clinic, has heard the same story dozens of times from people coming to be tested.

"A typical scenario is that a boy comes in and says he had a girlfriend, but left her for another. He had learnt that his former girl was having sex with other boys during their time together. Now he has got a 'condition' in his penis. He is very bothered by the situation and is afraid that she has infected him with HIV," Fulai told PlusNews.

GOAL has found that between five and 10 percent of people who undergo the test are HIV-positive.

"I was surprised that the number wasn't higher when I came here. The rate is supposed be even lower in the provinces, but no one really knows. But it really doesn't matter what the rate is – if it's 6 percent or if it's 20 percent - what are you going to do? Let's get some prevention in, let's do something. Once we've got services we can look at doing surveillance," Susan Lillicrap, GOAL's medical coordinator, told PlusNews.

People seem unafraid of talking openly about sex in Luanda. TV, radio and newspapers constantly report on HIV/AIDS issues in an open and progressive manner. The AIDS ribbons are seen on posters and lapel badges all over the city.

Existing surveys estimate a national prevalence rate of 5.5 percent. But as international organisations and the government rush to adopt anti-AIDS programmes, the threat is that poverty, in a country only just beginning to rebuild after almost three decades of civil war, could overwhelm preventative measures.

Street children are just one area of concern: in the sex trade, they are the most vulnerable and exploited.

"The street girls, who live in the gutters basically, charge between 100 and 200 kwanzas (US $1.25 to US $2.50) for sex ... I was really surprised to hear that street boys too are using prostitutes. These boys are from 10 to 16 years old. Whenever they have got money they spend it on gasoline for sniffing or on prostitutes," Lillicrap said.

Not only are condoms not always available, but poverty and unsafe sex go hand in hand. "If you are a sex worker and get offered a better price if you do it without a condom, you are not going to push for it," Lillicrap explained.

Although a commercial sex worker may realise she has a sexually transmitted infection, one of the major problems for women in Angola is access to health care. The voluntary counselling and testing clinics have become something of an alternative.

"They don't have to explain why they have sexually transmitted diseases. They will get treatment and condoms. If you ask for condoms at a normal clinic they will give you 12 at most, which is what a normal person would use. These girls maybe use 10 every night," Lillicrap said.

Theme (s): Children, Other,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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United Nations - OCHA
DFID - UK Department for International Development
Irish Aid
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation - SDC