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Standard Times Examines How Diamond Mining Fuels Spread of HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone

July 21, 2006

Sierra Leone's Standard Times on Wednesday examined how diamond mining in the Koidu Town area of eastern Sierra Leone is fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS. According to the Times, the "relative wealth" of miners in the area has "created a thriving commercial sex industry," and "[l]ow levels of education and high levels of illiteracy" and a "hangover from a decade of civil war, all combine to create conditions for a rapid spread of HIV." In addition, a "highly macho culture," in which having a sexually transmitted infection is considered a "sign of virility," prevents condom use and medical treatment for STIs, the Times reports. "The endemic areas where there are high numbers of those infected with the virus are always areas where mining is booming," Sylvester Samba, head of voluntary confidential counseling and testing at Koidu Government Hospital, said. Although no survey has been conducted to determine HIV prevalence among Sierra Leone's mining communities, according to a national survey in 2005, HIV prevalence in the two major mining districts of Kono and Kenema were 1% and 1.9%, respectively, the Times reports. Abdul Rahman Sesay, deputy head of the National AIDS Secretariat, said that those figures are dubious and that the prevalence rates in those areas likely were higher than the national average. At Koidu hospital, out of 1,229 HIV tests conducted in 2005, 84 people, or 6.8%, tested positive for the virus, and slightly more than 30% of those were 12 to 24 years old. Sesay said advocates are seeking to reach out to commercial sex workers and miners to combat the spread of the disease (Kallay, Standard Times, 7/19).

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