World Bulletin / News Desk
The South Sudan AIDS Commission (SSAC) has raised the alarm about rapidly rising HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, lamenting that the country's ongoing political crisis had made it even more difficult to address the issue.
"South Sudan is one of those countries relatively hard hit by the impact of the disease within sub-Sahara Africa today," SSAC Deputy Chairperson Achol Ayom Dor said in Juba on Friday at the launch of preparations for World AIDS Day, observed each year on December 1.
"The country is faced with a low generalized national prevalence of about 2.6 percent, with pockets of concentration in specific geographic zones, an estimated 13,000 new infections annually, and about 153,000 people living [with the disease]," she revealed.
Dor also pointed out that target treatment rates in South Sudan remained very low.
"Although we have realized improvement in regards to service provision in many states, with a total of up to 7,986 people on treatment and about 17,245 people on prophylaxis, by indication we are still among the countries with the lowest treatment targets attained in the region so far," she said.
"The level of HIV stigma and discrimination is still relatively high in all ten states of South Sudan," she added.
"The recent conflict in December 2013 has unfortunately challenged us with more need to address populations of humanitarian concern, mainly internally displaced persons (IDPs) and uniformed services in almost all the states," Dor noted.
The official called on the government, the nation's youth, civil society, the U.N., NGOs and donors to unite to combat the spread of the disease.
"Reversing the epidemic is a collective effort," she said. "The collective effort, commitment and determination to strongly pursue the post-2015 Millennium Development Goal agenda… is what will eventually lead us to reach the elimination goal of 2030."
Dor urged young people in particular to join efforts to combat the epidemic.
"The young populations are the backbone and future generation for this country. Statistics tell us that the young population comprise up to 70 percent of the total population of South Sudan," Dor said.
"The level of HIV awareness and knowledge among this group is, however, very low. I therefore call upon the youth to actively take the lead in the response to AIDS in South Sudan," she urged.
"The World AIDS Day campaign is a great opportunity for the youth to take up this central role," she added.
Dor went on to tell reporters that HIV infections in the country could be attributed to several bad practices.
"We have bad transitional cultures, like inheritance of widows by men, indulgence in early marriage and rushing into early sex by the youth," she said.
For his part, Akon Bol Akok, chairperson of South Sudan's parliamentary health committee, stressed the need to end practices of prostitution in the country.
"Prostitution should be abolished. We totally reject it," she said.
"It [the abolition of prostitution] is not one man's work; it needs a joint effort by [government] ministries and the public," Akok added.
"I am advising the public not to indulge themselves in such sex businesses. There is a lot of work to be done for the country. I encourage those who cannot control themselves to use condoms," the legislator advised.
Manut Maluel Maluel, president of South Sudan's National Youth Union, for his part, urged young people present at the event to refrain from potentially damaging behavior.
"As youth, we should discourage ourselves from behavior that influences sexual urge – drinking and bad peer groups," Maluel said.
The country will mark World AIDS Day in December under the banner, "Engaging voices of the youth in the HIV and AIDS response in South Sudan."
According to the World Health Organization's 2013 report on HIV/AIDS, some 1.5 million people worldwide have died of AIDS-related illnesses, 35 million are currently living with the virus, and about 2.1 million are newly infected.
Of the roughly 35 million people currently living with HIV, about 24.7 million are in sub-Saharan Africa – the region hardest hit by the epidemic.
According to UNAIDS, nearly one in every 20 adults in the region currently lives with the virus.Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2014, 09:26