SOMALIA: Mapping 'hot-spots' for a more effective AIDS response

NAIROBI, 20 July 2007 (PlusNews) - HIV prevalence in Somalia, now at 0.9 percent, is verging on being a generalised epidemic, but little is known about the factors that are driving it. In August, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will embark on a 'hot-spot mapping' exercise to enable partners in the HIV response to improve programmes for the populations most at risk.

"At the moment we cannot tell where the next 1,000 HIV infections in Somalia will happen, so we need to carry out the exercise as a first step to better understand the scope and context of the AIDS epidemic," Greg Irving, HIV programme officer for IOM, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"Right now, the AIDS response is dealing with a generalised epidemic, but we may also be witnessing a concentrated one; the mapping will give us a more accurate picture."

In a concentrated epidemic the HIV prevalence in high-risk populations - such as sex workers - is significantly higher than the general population, while a generalised epidemic is driven by sexual behaviour in the overall population.

"Anecdotal data from monitoring and evaluation programmes ... suggest that Somalia may be suffering from a concentrated epidemic in urban and cross-border regions, which host sex workers, truck drivers and other vulnerable populations," said Leo Kenny, UNAIDS country coordinator.

"We have a lot of truckers coming in and out of Somaliland [a self-declared republic in northwestern Somalia] and south central Somalia from bordering countries with significantly higher prevalence than amongst Somalis."

Despite HIV prevalence data from pregnant women, patients with tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, and some behavioural data, Kenny said there was still not enough information to establish which stage the Somali epidemic had reached.

Irving said two or three hot spots would be identified in each of the three Somali zones of Puntland in the northeast, Somaliland and south-central Somalia, and data gathering would be carried out to identify basic information on the population's risk behaviours and vulnerability to HIV.

The IOM will work alongside UNAIDS, the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO), other UN agencies, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the AIDS commissions of all three zones to complete the exercise by 31 December 2007.

The AIDS response in Somalia has been severely hindered by ongoing conflict in the country, but at least 13 voluntary counselling and testing sites, and four sites providing life-prolonging antiretroviral medication have been established over the past two years, with the support of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

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

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