Representatives From Indian Ocean Islands Hold Meeting To Address HIV/AIDS
More than 500 representatives from islands in the Indian Ocean -- including Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion Island and Seychelles -- recently expressed concern about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the region during a conference in Mauritius, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Although different issues are occurring in each nation, there is a shared belief that the impact of HIV/AIDS is changing in the region, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Delegates pointed to a common problem of stigma toward people living with the disease.
UNAIDS estimates that Comoros had 200 people living with HIV/AIDS as of 2007, and the country continues to face poverty, low condom use, a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS and a high incidence of sexually transmitted infections. IRIN/PlusNews reports that Madagascar's population is becoming increasingly vulnerable to HIV because of limited access to health care and social services, multiple concurrent partnerships and high rates of STIs. Despite these issues, Madagascar still has a relatively low HIV prevalence of 0.1%, and 14,000 people were living with the virus at the end of 2007.
In Mauritius, HIV/AIDS prevalence is 1.8%, and about 86% of the people living with HIV are injection drug users -- an increase since 2000, when IDUs comprised 2% of the HIV-positive population. In addition to providing no-cost antiretroviral drugs, the government has begun a needle-exchange program to address the recent shift in HIV transmission from heterosexual sex to injection drug use. According to IRIN/PlusNews, the move has received criticism. However, Willy Rozenblum -- head of the French National AIDS Council -- praised the Mauritian government for its decision to launch the program. Rozenblum said, "We can eradicate this disease in 50 years with the facilities and knowledge we have at present. We do not need to invent new things if we strictly apply what we have now. There must be strong political commitment to this and to stopping stigmatization, which is often more painful than the disease itself." Mauritius's Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam has said that the island should increase its efforts to curb the spread of the virus (IRIN/PlusNews, 11/14).