UN: Conflict fuelling spread of HIV in South Sudan

Tuesday December 06 2016

The red ribbon is a global AIDS awareness symbol that show solidarity with HIV-positive people. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

The conflict between pro-government forces and rebels is fuelling the spread of HIV/Aids in South Sudan, the United Nations said.

The agency said in a statement Tuesday that the displacement of populations in parts of South Sudan adversely affected the HIV/Aids treatment and response, while worsening the vulnerability of women and girls to infection.

Statistics indicate there were an estimated 179,000 HIV-positive people in South Sudan, of who more than 19,500 were on treatment.

The UN statement said the HIV prevalence was highest in the greater Equatoria region, where fighting and insecurity have escalated since July 2016, displacing thousands of people.

“Prior to the latest clashes, the greater Equatoria region hosted about 90 per cent of HIV and Aids patients on treatment,” it said.

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The UN disclosed that thousands HIV-positive people have been cut off from the health facilities where they accessed anti-retroviral therapy and HIV care services as a result of the conflict, adding that some medical institutions had been looted or attacked.

The fighting in July and subsequent months has also disrupted the planned distribution of treatment and diagnosis for the third quarter of the year.

A rapid assessment of HIV treatment sites across South Sudan in August found that about 25 per cent of the medical staff engaged in HIV care services were no longer available at health facilities in some of the locations worst-hit by conflict.

Most health facilities also reported that their staff had not been paid salaries or incentives for over three months.

According the the UN, women accounted for more than half of HIV-positive people in South Sudan and faced increasing exposure due to economic decline and conflict.

Sex work and transactional sex have been used as negative coping mechanisms during the economic crisis, while survivors of sexual violence were often unable to access support, including vital preventive treatment such as post exposure prophylaxis, according to the UN.

Nearly three out of every 100 adults in South Sudan has HIV, according to UNAids.

Even prior to the conflict, most health facilities providing HIV care in South Sudan were operating sub-optimally due to limited infrastructure - including laboratory services, logistics and supply chain management – and challenges in ensuring fuel for power supply.