Boston Globe Examines Risks HIV/AIDS Advocates Face While Working in Somalia

The Boston Globe on Monday examined the risks HIV/AIDS advocates face while providing prevention services in Somalia. According to the Globe, United Nations programs in Somalia focus on educating people about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent transmission, but the ABC prevention method -- meaning abstinence, be faithful and use condoms -- has met resistance because some Somalians think it promotes promiscuity, which is contrary to the teachings of Islam. Testing someone for the virus is considered too dangerous in the country, the Globe reports. "If we tell someone that they are HIV-positive, they might take revenge," Josef Prior Tio, general coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Mogadishu, Somalia, said. Faiza Narbeth, a native Somalian and adviser to the U.N. Development Programme, explained the problem by recounting a story at an HIV/AIDS seminar about a birth attendant in Kismayo, Somalia, who had informed a pregnant woman she was HIV-positive. "The participant in the seminar told us that the husband accused the birth attendant of infecting his wife," Narbeth said, adding that the attendant fled from the village and eventually was killed by the woman's husband. Narbeth called such stories "commonplace." When it comes to HIV/AIDS prevention in Somalia, "We are at the beginning, beginning, beginning stage, where everything is based on fear," Narbeth said. According to a 2004 World Health Organization survey that looked at pregnant women in antenatal clinics, Somalia's HIV prevalence is estimated to be 0.9%. However, no thorough studies have been conducted in the country because it has not had a central government in 15 years, the Globe reports (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 2/27).

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