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CAMEROON: HIV/AIDS New survey shows lower HIV prevalence rate of 5.5 percent

Photo: UNDP
Cameroon's capital Yaounde shows a high HIV prevalence rate
Yaounde, 28 October 2004 (PlusNews) - A new survey released by Cameroon's health ministry indicates that only 5.5 percent of the country's adult population is infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. The government had previously used an estimate of 11.8 percent, which was based on the testing of pregnant women at health clinics.

Preliminary results of the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS-III) of 11,400 people between October 2003 and August 2004 reveal an overall HIV prevalence rate of 5.5 percent, Joseph Tedou, the Director of Cameroon's National Institute of Statistics, told reporters on Wednesday.

Women showed a higher infection rate of 6.7 percent, whereas men were lower at 4.1 percent, he added.

The new figure is less than half the 11.8 percent HIV prevalence rate extrapolated from last year's Sentinel survey of pregnant women who underwent voluntary testing at ante-natal clinics throughout the country.

But it is close to the figure of 6.9 percent used by UNAIDS, which bases its own calculation on information from several different sources.

"The study that put Cameroon's prevalence rate at nearly 12 percent was carried out by monitoring pregnant women during their pre-natal consultations in clinics and AIDS-screening centres," Tedou said.

"The DHS-III survey is more scientific and more broadly based, with men, women and children of both sexes involved in the study," he stressed.

The survey was carried out jointly by Cameroon's National AIDS Control Committee, the National Institute of Statistics, Centre Pasteur, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Washington-based consultancy ORC/MACRO International.

Tedou said it targeted 11,400 individuals throughout the country, 91 percent of whom agreed to be tested for AIDS.

The survey showed that HIV prevalence rates were much higher in the southern Cameroon and in the capital Yaounde, than in the north.

The English speaking North-West Province, around the highlands town of Bamenda, showed a prevalence rate of 8.7 percent, the highest of Cameroon's 10 provinces.

It was followed closely by the densely forested Eastern province, around the town of Bertoua, with 8.6 percent, while Yaounde showed an HIV prevalence rate of 8.3 percent.

But the country's dry and staunchly Muslim North and Far-North provinces recorded rates of less than two percent.

Doctor Valere Mve Koh, a gynaecologist and obstetrician who heads the AIDS committee at the Yaounde’s university teaching hospital, said the new DHS-111 survey appeared closer to reality than the previous sentinel survey.

"Every year, at the end of November, there is a Cameroonian week to fight against AIDS, during which free screening is available throughout the country, and the figures we get from that are similar to those revealed in the survey," he told PlusNews.

But Health Minister Urbain Olanguena Awono warned that the new lower figures provided no grounds for complacency.

"We shouldn't feel that we have won the war against HIV/AIDS," he stressed. "The government intends to intensify the battle to mitigate the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a disaster which constitutes a serious threat to the country's development."

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