Chicago Tribune reporter Jessica Reaves on Sunday examined efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Senegal. According to Reaves, government sponsorship of HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs, the involvement of religious leaders, and the country's legalization and regulation of the commercial sex industry are major factors in Senegal's success in fighting the disease. The HIV/AIDS prevalence in Senegal is 0.9%, similar to the HIV/AIDS prevalence of 0.6% in the U.S. and "far lower" than prevalence in many other African countries, Reaves reports. Senegal's Ministry of Education in 1994 with funding from United Nations Population Fund launched a campaign to introduce information about sex, contraception, health and family planning to children in the country's schools. Since then, the program has expanded to provide peer counseling and sponsors family life education clubs in schools. Reaves reports that Senegalese girls have delayed initial intercourse by an average of three years compared with their mothers' generation. In addition, condom use has increased threefold from 10 years ago to nearly 70% currently, according to a recent survey. Senegal's success in fighting HIV/AIDS also is a "powerful indicator" of the partnership between the medical community and religious leaders, Reaves reports. Although religious leaders often "limit their sermons to discussions of abstinence and fidelity," health workers are "often on hand to handle practical instruction and clinical questions," Reaves reports. In addition, Senegal's sex worker registration system, which was established in 1969, provides women with weekly health care and access to no-cost condoms. A recent academic report found that 100% of Senegalese sex workers surveyed -- all of whom had participated in government-sponsored HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection prevention classes -- said they use condoms with every customer, Reaves reports. Senegal's policy of legalized commercial sex work makes it ineligible for funding from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, so it relies on donations from the UNFPA and the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This funding also allows Senegal's teachers and community leaders to discuss condom use as part of a larger prevention message, Reaves reports (Reaves, Chicago Tribune, 4/22).
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