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Somalia could halt spread of AIDS, says UNICEF representative

Nairobi, Wednesday, 24 September 2003 - Somali communities, local authorities and international partners have an opportunity to ensure that HIV/AIDS does not spiral out of control in their country, UNICEF Somalia Representative, Jesper Morch said today at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA).

Unlike many of its Sub-Saharan neighbours, the prevalence rate in Somalia is still relatively low, which provides a unique opportunity for a pre-emptive HIV/AIDS response. However, multiple factors are increasing the threat.  Among them are the ongoing conflict, high cross border and internal population movements, low awareness of basic facts and risk behaviors, a high reported incidence of STIs and the lack of care and preventative services

Somalia cannot afford to allow the prevalence to rise. ''A full-blown HIV/AIDS epidemic would be catastrophic and seriously hamper any efforts towards nation building and return of peace in Somalia.  It is therefore crucial and urgent to put in place a coordinated and strategic early response to stop the epidemic from spreading, The experience of a country like Senegal which, like Somalia, is predominantly Muslim, and where early and focused interventions contributed to stemming of the tide of HIV/AIDS, is model of hope which Somalia can build upon,” said Morch.

The first step towards a coordinated response is the collaborative Strategic Framework for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS and STIs within Somali Populations, developed in 2003 following an eight-month participatory process among representatives from Somali communities and authorities, civil society, international and local NGOs and UN agencies, including UNICEF.

''The Strategic Framework provides a joint vision that has been endorsed by Somali leaders, community groups and humanitarian agencies working at all levels and all of the participants in the process have jointly pledged to support strategic interventions through their respective programmes '' said Morch.

Even with new data being collected and the shared vision amongst stakeholders, the challenge ahead is significant: there is no central government, limited if any public service infrastructure and capacity, and intermittent insecurity, particularly throughout the central and southern parts of the country. In addition, discrimination and stigma towards people living with HIV/AIDS is a problem, diminishing the likelihood of enlisting their assistance in the response.

As one of many agencies engaged in this issue, UNICEF intends to target and mobilize the youth on a large scale, as they are both the most vulnerable group as well as the most potent ally in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.  As a small step in this process, UNICEF has sponsored four Somali youth - two girls and two boys - to participate in the ICASA Youth Forum.

UNICEF's asserts that focus on the shared vision of the Strategic Framework and collective prevention and control actions at an early stage, can effectively stop the rise of prevalence rates.  However, a crucial factor in the success of these programmes is the commitment of the donor community in providing adequate and sustainable funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and control. 

The first important action has already been taken: Somalis have united against HIV/AIDS by agreeing on response measures. The next phase is about to begin as agencies such as UNICEF join with Somalis to stop AIDS from gaining a foothold in the country.

For further information contact

Mira Ihalainen, HIV/AIDS Officer, UNICEF Somalia.
Tel: +254-20-623950. Mobile: +254-733-651746
Email: mihalainen@unicef.org. Fax: +254-20-623965/520640.

Julia Spry-Leverton, Communication Officer, UNICEF Somalia.
Tel: +254 -20-623958. Mobile: +254-721-804-498.
Email: jsleverton@unicef.org. Fax: +254-20-623965/520640.

Robert Kihara, Assistant Communication Officer, UNICEF Somalia.
Tel: +254-20-623958. Mobile +254-721-244-800.
Email: rkihara@unicef.org. Fax: +254-20-623965/520640.

Notes to Editors:

1. The 'Strategic Framework for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS and STIs within Somali Populations' was the result of a joint effort spearheaded by the Somalia Aid Co-ordination Body of which UNICEF is a member. It was funded with contributions from the Royal Netherlands Government, UNAIDS and UNICEF.





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