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Overcrowded Resettlement Camps in Namibia Could Lead to Spread of HIV, Officials Say

April 8, 2009

Recent flooding of the Zambezi River in Namibia's Caprivi region has displaced 23,000 people and contributed to overcrowding in resettlement camps, which could lead to an increased number of HIV cases among camp populations, Elijah Muyoyeta, Social Marketing Association official for HIV and malaria prevention, said Sunday, Namibia's New Era reports. According to health officials, the Caprivi region recently reported a decline in HIV prevalence from 40% to 30% among pregnant women tested for the virus. However, these gains could be reversed as a result of the overcrowded camps, New Era reports.

Muyoyeta developed his predictions based on field visits to the Schuckmannsburg resettlement camp, which houses up to 4,000 people displaced by floods. He said that camp residents sometimes engage in commercial sex work and that married people sometimes have unprotected sex with other displaced people they meet in the camps. In addition, some people have multiple sex partners, he said. According to Muyoyeta, the camps have a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis and gonorrhea. Muyoyeta said some people who contract STIs "prefer traditional medicine because they believe these herbs are stronger than modern medicine," adding that his organization advises them to "consult medical doctors." According to New Era, SMA works with Namibia's Ministry of Health and Social Services to distribute no-cost condoms and promote community awareness about HIV/AIDS and malaria (Inambao, New Era, 4/7).

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