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UN: African countries fight HIV/AIDS boosted

UN agencies boost efforts to help African countries fight HIV/AIDS

As Africa struggles with 30 million of the world's 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS, United Nations agencies are strengthening their efforts to help the continent stop the pandemic from devastating the vulnerable populations in the cities, the armed forces and young people.

A new handbook containing guidelines on how to tackle the pandemic in cities is set to give local authorities a new strategy to help AIDS sufferers across sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

The booklet warns that HIV/AIDS is high in cities because of high population density, the presence of transportation hubs, and the existence of large groups of vulnerable persons including sex workers, unemployed youths, migrant labour and drug users.

Mayors, councillors and private sector chief executives need to be personally committed in order to generate an effective response as cities will see decreases in labour productivity, lower capacity of users to pay for services, greater household vulnerability and poverty, the handbook says.

The handbook - published by the World Bank in collaboration with UN-HABITAT, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders on HIV/AIDS in Africa (AMICAALL) and the Cities Alliance - was launched at the conference of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA). The Conference is being held alongside the 13th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Africa (ICASA) running through Friday in Nairobi, Kenya.

Meanwhile, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) today released the first of a series of case studies on armed forces and their critical role in fighting HIV/AIDS worldwide. The study, entitled "Fighting AIDS: HIV/AIDS prevention and care among armed forces and UN peacekeepers in Eritrea," was launched during a press conference in Nairobi.

The study highlights HIV/AIDS prevention efforts by uniformed personnel in Eritrea, particularly efforts made by the Eritrean Defence Force (EDF) and UN Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). It says if equipped with the right information, knowledge and tools, the military can achieve lower HIV prevalence rates than the national average. Soldiers can also become important agents for behavioural change within the army and beyond.

Uniformed services, including peacekeepers, frequently rank among the population groups most affected by STIs, including HIV. Military personnel are two to five times more likely to contract STIs than the civilian population and this risk increases significantly during conflict.

Also participating at the ICASA meeting, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) discussed the "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 non-governmental organizations (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," UNICEF Somalia Representative Jesper Morch said yesterday.

UNICEF asserts that focus on the Strategic Framework and collective prevention and control actions can ensure that HIV/AIDS does not spiral out of control in Somalia. However, a crucial factor in the success of these programmes is the commitment of the donor community in providing adequate and sustainable funding. UNICEF said it intends to target and mobilize the youth on a large scale, as they are both the most vulnerable group.

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