IRIN News Examines HIV/AIDS in Post-War Liberia

IRIN News on Thursday examined the increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Liberia, which is emerging from 14 years of civil war. "HIV/AIDS is now a serious problem in Liberia," President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said recently, adding that HIV prevalence is 12% in the general population and higher among women and children. According to UNAIDS, 5.9% of Liberians were HIV-positive at the end of 2003, just after the end of the war. Johnson-Sirleaf at the launch of a new HIV/AIDS public awareness campaign supported by the World Health Organization and the African Union said that the large number of soldiers now stationed in Liberia as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force fuels the spread of the disease in Liberia because many of the soldiers come from countries with high HIV prevalence. "Our sexual behavior, contribution and interactions with those who come with the peacekeeping forces, all increas[e] the incidence of AIDS," Johnson-Sirleaf said. According to U.N. Mission in Liberia spokesperson Paul Egunsola, HIV/AIDS in the country is an "international problem." He added that all U.N. military personnel now are required to take a "mandatory induction exercise" to teach them about HIV, are told not to have sex with local residents and are banned from paying for sex. Some advocates say it is poverty rather than the peacekeeping troops that is fueling the spread of the disease in Liberia. Inadequate information about the spread of the disease adds to the problem, Health Minister Walter Gwenigale said, adding that the 12% prevalence cited by Johnson-Sirleaf does not apply to all areas of the country. Some advocates have urged for testing nationwide, which would include the testing of returning refugees (IRIN News, 4/20).

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