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West African Nations Fight AIDS by Easing Border Restrictions


Five neighboring West African countries have agreed to shorten traveling time between their countries borders, in a move to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS infection among migrants and inhabitants along the route. The countries, which are members of the World Bank sponsored Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Project, include Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.

Traveling along the1022-kilometer stretch of the highway from Abidjan to Nigeria means crossing several borders and checkpoints, an experience many travelers say cause long delays and harassment by border officials.

The Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Project, launched in 2005 to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, says these delays are contributing to the further spread of disease as drivers and travelers stop in border towns to visit commercial sex workers and local people living along the corridor.

Justin Koffi, who heads the project, says there is an established link between the time people spend on the road and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

"For example you know the closing of borders - the border between Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire close at 6:30, so there is no way for you to make it from Nigeria to Cote D'Ivoire within a day," he said, "in the meantime, Elubo [Abidjan-Ghana border] does not offer any lodging facility, so this early closing of the border turns to transform this area into a sex industry, so this may fuel the HIV/AIDS spread."

An estimated 30 million people live along the Abidjan-Lagos corridor, with another 14 million traveling through each year.

The delegates, from Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria, agreed to work to cut in half the number of checkpoints within their countries by end of the year, and also cut back on border crossing time for people and goods.

Nigerian Police Commissioner Of Border Patrol Aloysius Okorie says he intends to take some decisive action when he returns home.

"The major task for me now is to go back, maybe undertake a tour of our own stretch of the corridor to make sure that the number of road blocks that has been approved is the number we have, no more, no less," noted Okorie.

ECOWAS recommends three checkpoints per every 100-kilometer distance, but this provision has been largely violated by member countries.

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