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Prevention/Epidemiology: HIV prevalence among African refugees no higher than that of general population, UNHCR study says

Prevention/Epidemiology: HIV prevalence among African refugees no higher than that of general population, UNHCR study says

4 June 2004

From Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, June 4, 2004 - Refugees in many African countries are no more likely to be HIV-positive than people in the countries' general populations, according to a study conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, VOA News reports (Drudge, VOA News, 6/3). Previously, refugees have been considered to be at higher risk for contracting HIV because the increased incidence of rape and commercial sex work, low condom use and scarcity of health care in refugee camps were thought to create conditions in which HIV could spread rapidly. However, the UNHCR study found that in five of the seven camps in Eastern and Southern Africa where the organization conducted HIV tests, HIV prevalence among refugee populations actually was lower than that of the general population (Fisher, Reuters/Star, 6/3). For example, in the Kakuma camp in Northern Kenya, which houses 80,000 Sudanese refugees, the HIV prevalence among refugees was 5%, compared with 18% in the surrounding Kenyan population. In addition, the HIV prevalence among individuals living at refugee camps at Dadaab in Western Kenya, where about 120,000 Somalis live, was 0.5%, compared with 4% among Kenyans in the neighbouring town of Garissa. UNHCR Senior HIV/AIDS Technical Officer Paul Spiegel attributes the lower rates to reduced mobility among refugees. "In Sierra Leone and Angola, for example, you've lost the infrastructure. Refugee men can't so easily go to urban areas, sleep with commercial sex workers and then come back and infect their wives," Spiegel said (Fisher, Reuters, 6/3).


Spiegel also said that although there are 29 African countries hosting at least 10,000 refugees each, less than one-third of governments offer HIV-positive refugees antiretroviral drugs from internationally funded drug treatment programmes, VOA News reports. UNHCR HIV/AIDS Coordinator for East Africa Paterson Njogu attributes part of the problem to discrimination against refugees (VOA News, 6/3). "For many years countries have denied the existence of AIDS in their community and have tended to blame people who are coming from outside. They looked for a scapegoat and they found one among the refugees," Patterson said (Reuters, 6/3). UNHCR has launched a campaign to raise public awareness about HIV/AIDS among refugees and to ensure the same access to prevention and care afforded to the general population, according to VOA News (VOA News, 6/3).