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Health | Science - Education

First HIV surveillance programme in Somaliland

afrol News, 28 July - The first-ever HIV surveillance programme in the self-declared republic of Somaliland has been launched. The surveillance is set to explore key findings of the earlier research, with a focus on most-at-risk populations.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) have announced their launch of the first community-based HIV surveillance programme in Somaliland. Building upon its groundbreaking Somali HIV hot-spot mapping research, IOM says it has started a "bio-behavioural HIV surveillance survey" in the breakaway republic, in collaboration with WHO.

Focus on the earlier study was on so-called "most-at-risk populations". The HIV hot-spot mapping was the first Somali research study to identify and engage transactional sex workers and their clients, including truck drivers, uniformed services, seafarers and militia. "Key findings indicated poor knowledge of how HIV is transmitted and prevented, low condom use and multiple, concurrent sexual partners," according to IOM.

HIV surveillance is widely regarded as the cornerstone of an evidence-informed AIDS response. The "bio" component establishes who is HIV-infected, which is then linked to "behavioural" indicators of risk practices, according to IOM Hargeisa Head of Office Adrienne Testa.

The findings is set to guide the Somalilander government's HIV response to develop and inform programmes for risk populations, including sex workers, truck drivers, uniformed services and other vulnerable groups. Baseline prevalence of risk behaviours and HIV infection are also expected to be established.

The community-based surveillance among most-at-risk populations is also to complement WHO's HIV surveillance among Somaliland antenatal clinic attendees, says Ms Testa.

Data collection is to start August 2008, according to IOM, "to establish HIV and STI prevalence, as well as HIV and STI risk perceptions, condom usage patterns, barriers to condom usage, gender-based violence and integrated health service needs," she notes. Local partner organisations included the Somaliland National AIDS Commission (SOLNAC).

The project, which is funded by UNICEF, the Global Fund and UNAIDS, will initially be conducted only in peaceful Somaliland. But IOM says it hopes to be able to replicate it also in troubled Somalia, starting in the relative peaceful semi-autonomous north-eastern region of Puntland and moving down to South Central. This was however "subject to additional funding," IOM said.

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