HIV Epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo Likely To Worsen in Wake of Civil War, UNAIDS Official Says
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo is likely to worsen in the wake of a decade of civil conflict, according to UNAIDS country coordinator Pierre Somse, PlusNews reports. According to the country's national HIV/AIDS control program, roughly 4% of the population, or about 1.2 million people, were HIV-positive in 2005. In addition, in 2005 there were about 155,000 new HIV cases and 100,000 deaths from AIDS-related illness, according to PlusNews. Although HIV prevalence has appeared to be stable over the last decade, health experts warn that the rate of HIV incidence is high, especially in rural areas. Such areas have been "worst affected by the conflict, population movement, soldiers and violence, especially sexual violence ... [and] (where) ignorance about the epidemic is the greatest and ... access to health care is the most difficult to obtain," according to the national HIV/AIDS control program. In addition, years of regional and civil strife have left the country's health infrastructure in poor condition, PlusNews reports. According to PlusNews, the "opening up of the country and the first democratic elections since 1960 could bring a surge" in HIV prevalence. "One of the repercussions of peace could well be the risk of spreading HIV" if prevention efforts in the country are not increased, Somse said. According to IRIN News/AllAfrica.com, the country in 2004 received a five-year, $113 million grant from the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and in 2005 received a five-year, $102 million grant from the World Bank to help fight HIV/AIDS. The funds are being used for condom-distribution programs; for programs to increase health care capacity; and to provide antiretroviral drugs at no cost, which are being distributed at 73 sites around the country, PlusNews reports. A "2006 roadmap" has been created to monitor and coordinate HIV/AIDS efforts in the country, according to PlusNews (PlusNews , 8/1).
Rape, HIV Transmission
In related news, local authorities and international nongovernmental organizations are working together to improve HIV/AIDS treatment and services for the thousands of women who were raped during the civil conflict, PlusNews reports. It can be difficult for many women to access care after a rape, and "by the time they work up the courage ... it is usually too late to prevent HIV infection," PlusNews reports. According to the national HIV/AIDS control program, 20% of rape survivors contracted HIV as a result of being raped. "Sexual violence has existed for a long time, but it was never reported," Mujijima Bora Kabera, head of the Katanga provincial department for the status of women and children, said, adding, "[P]eople are beginning to realize that this is a serious problem." According to PlusNews, the U.N. Mission to the D.R.C. drafted legislation -- which was adopted by the Congolese Parliament in June -- that broadens the definition of rape to include penetration with a weapon, which was common during the war, PlusNews reports. The new law also allows military personnel to be prosecuted, whereas they previously often were protected under the law, according Ida Kitwa, coordinator of the Katanga branch of Reseau Action Femmes (PlusNews , 8/1).