Poverty, Population Movement Contributing to Spread of HIV in Sudan, U.N., Health Officials Say
Poverty and the movement of people displaced by war have contributed to an increase in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Sudan, United Nations and Sudanese health officials said on Sunday, adding that a lack of data is hindering efforts to get an accurate picture of the disease in the country, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. According to the officials, an estimated 1.6% of Sudan's 37 million people are living with HIV. However, the actual prevalence of HIV/AIDS likely is higher and improved surveillance would help determine that number, they added.
The movement of large populations -- including people fleeing Darfur and those returning from areas with higher prevalence rates following the separate north-south conflict -- is in particular contributing to the spread of HIV. Although a peace deal in 2005 ended conflict in the south, the war in Darfur continues and so far has resulted in up to 300,000 deaths and the displacement of about 2.5 million people, according to the AP/Herald Tribune. The number of HIV/AIDS cases in Sudan based on available data is estimated to be between 350,000 and 600,000, and less than 2,000 HIV-positive people in need of treatment are receiving it, according to the officials. In addition, the 1.6% prevalence is based on outdated data from surveys conducted in a limited number of clinics rather than nationwide surveillance, they added.
According to Abdel Kareem Gibreel Algoni, a Sudanese public health consultant, the spread of HIV is influenced by poverty and illiteracy, both of which are widespread in Sudan. Sudan now is like how South Africa was in the 1990s, he said, adding, "The virus is not that clever. We can overcome but it works on our ignorance, both political ignorance, economic ignorance and personal ignorance." Although a U.N. survey has indicated that certain regions in Sudan have prevalences of between 1% of 3%, Algoni said that in Abyei, about 18% of the population has been seeking treatment for sexually transmitted infections at mobile clinics he has established. "Most probably, they will also have HIV," he added.
Zahir Babikr, an infectious disease specialist, said that some physicians in the capital of Khartoum and surrounding areas are reporting an average of three to five newly diagnosed HIV cases daily. "We need to do something about it," Babikr said.
A nationwide HIV/AIDS survey has not yet been conducted, the officials said, adding that conducting one without a reliable, updated census would be difficult. A national survey expected this year has been delayed until next year because of low funding, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. Musa Bungudu, the head of UNAIDS in Sudan, said that a serious response to HIV/AIDS in the country began about two years ago and that the country's religious leaders only recently condoned condom use. According to UNAIDS, HIV primarily is spread through sex, not drug use, in Sudan. In addition, stigma continues to pose challenges, and the country does not have a national condom campaign, according to the AP/Herald Tribune. HIV/AIDS centers primarily are located in large hospitals in cities, and most of the population does not have access to such services. Mohamed Abdel Hafeez, manager for Sudan's national HIV/AIDS program, said that training for physicians, efforts to combat stigma surrounding the disease and resources in remote areas are still lacking (El Deeb, AP/International Herald Tribune, 8/10).