HIV/AIDS prevalence low, but disaster looms in the Comoros

Moroni- Comoros (PANA) -- As countries prepare for the AIDS conference in New York, Comoros (to be represented by Prime Minister Hamada Madi Bolero) does not appear to shown much interest in the fight against the pandemic.
Although a national HIV/AIDS control strategy was set up in 1996 laying emphasis on youths, the establishment of a blood transfusion centre, voluntary screening and epidemiological surveillance, its implementation is yet to come under scrutiny.
In a Muslim country where traditions are paramount, the authorities in Moroni appear rather embarrassed whenever a discussion touches on youth sex, and they generally shun the issue.
Recently the minister of Education, invited to speak in public on AIDS in schools, took the precaution to delete the word "condom" from the speech prepared by his collaborators, and only made indirect reference to the point.
Later, in private, he explained that he did not want to shock parents nor give the impression that authorities were encouraging premarital sex, which is strictly forbidden by Islam.
In fact, the HIV/AIDS control programme launched in 1990 has received no government financial support since 1996, except for staff wages.
The team in charge of coordinating HIV/AIDS control in Comoros comprises only two people - one coordinator and one secretary.
Besides, the National HIV/AIDS Control Committee set up in 1998 is not operational, while the five-year plan to control the pandemic (developed in 1999) is still raise the funds for its implementation, despite the involvement of the WHO and UNAIDS.
Since the first case of AIDS was reported in Comoros in March 1998, a surveillance system has been set up, bolstered by the National AIDS Control Programme in 1990.
Officially, AIDS prevalence is still low in the country, with 61 cases and 26 deaths since.
However, these are official data collected in clinics.
And all patients do not report to hospital.
At any rate, Comoros now presents all the factors likely to foster an AIDS outbreak in future.
The prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is high.
Sexual promiscuity is rife.
AIDS awareness among the population is low.
Rising poverty fosters prostitution, which is all the more dangerous as it is clandestinely practised, hence not monitored by health services.
Moreover, "the safety of blood transfusion is poorly organised and still managed by unqualified staff," noted a UNAIDS report.
Ahamda Said Fazuil, in charge of blood transfusion at the El-Maarouf hospital, raised the alarm in a letter to the director-general of health on 28 February deploring "delayed supply of screening reagents," which sometimes makes the laboratory "unable to ensure the safety of transfusion.
" In his letter, Fazuil said that Mitsamiouli and Moheli hospitals were out of reagents.
Compounded by the "unavailability of condoms" noted in the UNAIDS report, the situation may lead to a catastrophe in the next few years, unless authorities react vigorously.

21 june 2001 13:51:00

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