DRC hopes to counter rising HIV infections

According to the National AIDS Programme (PNLS), there were about 1.2 million HIV-positive people in the country in 2005, about 4 percent of the population.

Although the HIV prevalence rate appears to have been stable for the last 10 years, health experts have noted that stabilisation can disguise the worst phase of the epidemic, when roughly the same number of people is being newly infected as is dying of AIDS. An estimated 100,000 people died from AIDS-related conditions in 2005, when there were around 155,000 new HIV infections.

“I do not believe that the epidemic is stabilising; on the contrary, it is more likely that there will be a very active and even very explosive epidemic,” cautioned United Nations AIDS Programme (UNAIDS) country co-ordinator Pierre Somse.

Most health infrastructure has been destroyed by years of civil and regional conflict in a country the size of Western Europe, yet which has only a few hundred kilometres of roads.

The PNLS feels the HIV infection rate could be higher in rural areas, which “have been the worst affected by the conflict, population movement, soldiers and by violence, especially sexual violence, from which the inhabitants of these areas have suffered, (where) ignorance about the epidemic is the greatest and where access to health care is the most difficult to obtain”.

Peace, the opening-up of the country, and the first democratic elections since 1960 could bring a surge in prevalence figures.

“One of the repercussions of peace could well be the risk of spreading HIV if there is not a vigorous reaction,” Somse commented.

The government will also have to deal with a legacy of widespread sexual abuse of women, often used as a weapon of war: the PNLS has found that 20 percent of rape survivors are HIV positive.

Dr Jo Bakualaufu Ntumba, who works with AMACONGO, an AIDS non-governmental organisation (NGO) that supports more than 8,000 orphans and vulnerable children and their families throughout the country, believes the state should be playing a far greater role in responding to the pandemic.

The sheer size of the DRC ‘ 2.5 million square kilometres bordering nine countries ‘ has made it even more difficult to address HIV/AIDS.

“We are victims of the size of our country. The government is far from those it governs. In the (south-eastern) province of Katanga, for example, Kal’mie (a town in the north of the province) is 1,000 kilometres from the provincial capital, Lubumbashi.” ‘ IRIN.

August 2006
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