HIV/AIDS Efforts in Southern Sudan Hindered By Funding Delays, Lack of Awareness, Officials Say
The fight against HIV/AIDS in southern Sudan is facing challenges related to funding delays, a lack of resources, stigma and a population that is largely unaware of the disease, IRIN/PlusNews reports. According to IRIN/PlusNews, the region's strategic HIV/AIDS framework is expected to cost around $656.12 million over a five-year period, of which $124.16 million has been secured, leaving an 80% funding gap. The region also was expected in 2007 to receive $28.5 million in grants from the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but the majority of that money has yet to be transferred, according to Bellario Ahoy Ngong, chair of the South Sudan AIDS Commission. A recent UNAIDS country progress report indicated that only $4.1 million had been spent as of February 2008. The report said the delays in funding were because of agencies' inability to absorb and manage the money, as well as the continuing security problems in some states of Sudan.
SSAC in 2007 announced a new HIV/AIDS prevention plan, and the group has been working to establish offices in the region's 10 states. However, Paul Juoch, director of SSAC in Unity State, said that he does not have an office and is currently "mobile." He also said that the opposition he has faced when trying to educate the local population about HIV/AIDS is a greater obstacle than the lack of an office. "If I go to a school and I tell them to use condoms ... it's like you are introducing sex to people," he said, adding that he is "always frustrated that people are not responding." Douglas Graeme Higgins, chief of programs in the Southern Sudan Office of UNICEF, said the region is "arguably at a stage where many countries in sub-Saharan Africa were in the 1990s. Changing attitudes, leave alone behavior, is not easy."
IRIN/PlusNews also reports that some people who remained in Sudan throughout the country's recent conflict blame the spread of HIV/AIDS on those who fled and then returned from other countries. Benjamin Waigo, director of SSAC in Eastern Equatoria State, said the people who stayed in Sudan "often think that AIDS came from the (Democratic Republic of) Congo and East Africa. The people from Ethiopia (and) East Africa are generally well aware of the pandemic, compared to those who stayed."
According to IRIN/PlusNews, open discussion of sexual matters still is "taboo" in Sudan, but high-risk behaviors are not uncommon. A study in the regional capital of Juba conducted in 2007 showed that 5.9% of women and 11.7% of men had sex with a casual partner in the past 12 months, and other studies have shown that less than 25% of men in southern Sudan report consistent condom use with casual partners. According to a 2007 household survey, more than 50% of women in the region had not heard of HIV/AIDS and 70% could not name the three main ways the virus is transmitted. According to IRIN/PlusNews, there are no conclusive data on the prevalence of HIV in southern Sudan, but "limited surveillance" conducted at prenatal care sites shows prevalence ranging from 0.8% to 11.5% depending on which site is examined (IRIN/PlusNews, 11/20).