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International News

War, Prostitution Fuel AIDS Epidemic in Ivory Coast

July 13, 2005

Before war broke out in 2002, Ivory Coast's HIV rate stood at about 13 percent of the population -- high by West African standards. There are no hard figures on countrywide infection rates now, but anecdotal evidence and test results from hospital patients suggest they may have soared. Meanwhile, access to ARVs is limited.

In the rebel-held north of war-torn Ivory Coast, young women living in poverty often resort to prostitution. "There are lots of relations between girls in town and soldiers and it's worse than before," said Samuel Laoukoura, director of Ferkessedougou's Baptiste Hospital, where 67 percent of people tested so far this year had HIV. Laoukoura said the crisis precipitated by the war has driven more young girls into prostitution, having sex for cash with the rebels, known as the New Forces.

Locals say the arrival of a 10,000-strong contingent of French and UN troops sent in to prevent clashes between government and rebel forces has exacerbated the problem. "French soldiers pay well and lots of girls want to go with them," said Kati Soro, a local AIDS activist.

Most health workers fled the north at the start of the war and the few who remain say they have had more pressing concerns to attend to. "During the first two years of the crisis, we were so busy that there was not time to educate people about protection against AIDS," said Seguelo Soro, the one remaining doctor at the regional hospital in Odienne. Later, Soro met with the local chief about HIV/AIDS and started showing awareness films in the town's theater.

Health workers say the prejudice against condoms in the mainly Muslim north is a concern. "If you're Muslim, you simply don't want to use a condom. It's forbidden," said Momouni Quattara of Care International. In addition, an AIDS program the government used to fund at the private Christian Baptiste Hospital lost funding because it recommended abstinence rather than safe sex, said Laoukoura.

Back to other news for July 13, 2005

Adapted from:
07.06.05; James Knight; Katrina Manson

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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