(Reissued as received.)
FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE, 10 June (UNFPA) -- A three-year project to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among refugees, displaced populations and their host communities in the post-conflict border areas of Guinea, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone was launched here today.
"By your presence here today, you have clearly manifested your unequivocal interest in our united effort to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly in conflict and post-conflict situations", said Fama Hane Ba, Director of the Africa Division of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which will be responsible for the overall management of the $7.5 million project. "The conflicts have notably disrupted access to basic social services and led to forced displacement of people as they flee in search of security, food and shelter. In these dire circumstances, HIV/AIDS will influence the capability of communities to give adequate responses to the humanitarian crises in the subregion."
Approximately 1 million people will benefit from the project, of which 50 per cent will be children and 35 per cent will be female-headed households. The four project sites are in Danane, Côte d'Ivoire; Nimba, Liberia; Gueckedou, Guinea; and Kenema, Sierra Leone.
Partners in the project include the national AIDS secretariats of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, UNFPA, World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the African Development Bank (ADB), the Mano River Union Secretariat, non-governmental organizations and representatives of displaced populations.
According to a report by the ADB, an estimated 1.9 million people are infected with HIV in the four countries. About 140,000 have died from the epidemic and 900,000 children have been orphaned by the disease.
Although the overall numbers are relatively low, conditions in the border areas are a potential catalyst for the spread of HIV/STIs, putting refugees, internally displaced persons and their host communities at risk. Factors include the high mobility of the population, low literacy levels, poorly equipped public health centres, drug use and unprotected sex.
"We recognize that the large concentration and frequent movement of refugees and returnees within and across borders in the Mano River Union countries who do not have easy access to basic health facilities, and are more vulnerable and at greater risk of contracting STIs/HIV/AIDS, calls for increased intercountry collaboration", said Youssouf Mohamed, Manager, Country Operations West and Centre of the ADB, which is funding the project. "Moreover, given the inextricable links between the four countries and the fluidity of the population movements across their borders, the fight against HIV/AIDS ... cannot be won at the country level."
The project seeks to enable the region to stop and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, one of the Millennium Development Goals. Aims include 100 per cent screening of blood transfusions; promoting positive behaviour among 80 per cent of selected high-risk groups; encouraging 50 per cent of youth condom use; establishing HIV voluntary counselling and testing services at 80 sites; managing 90 per cent of STI cases; providing 8,000 people living with HIV/AIDS with medical and psychological support; and preventing mother-to-child transmission among 80 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women.
"We must ensure that people living within these border areas do not end up falling through the cracks", said Dr. Mamadou Diallo, UNFPA Representative in Sierra Leone. "If we don't address this issue, we undermine our results in each of the four countries. We must make sure that no one is left out."
The UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided substantial assistance to developing countries, at their request, to address their population and development needs.
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