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Guinea Faces Serious Challenges in Fight Against HIV/AIDS

Health and aid workers in the west African country, Guinea, say they face many challenges to help victims of HIV / AIDS, mostly because of a lack of funding and inadequate information campaigns. Nico Colombant reports from Nzerekore, Guinea, near the border with Sierra Leone.

AIDS orphans receive free schooling and one meal a day at this cash-strapped center run by aid workers in Nzerekore.

The director of the program, Antoinette Honomou, says sometimes the aid workers use some of their own money to help with meals and supplies.

Orphans here are only given basic elementary school teaching. There are not enough volunteers to teach the older orphans.

Atthe same center, the head of a local non-governmental organization organizes distribution of monthly food rations to HIV / AIDS patients.

Antoine Sandy says, if he had more donor funding, there is much more he could do.

His organization helps 500 infected patients, but only has free ARV drugs for about 200 of them.

Sandy explains that, in the past two decades, the region has been overrun with displaced people from conflicts in nearby Liberia, Sierra Leone and, more recently, Ivory Coast. He says that is one reason HIV / AIDS may be more of a problem here, than elsewhere in Guinea.

Other explanations he gives are low literacy, as well as a lack of awareness for the importance of having protected sex.

Statistics are difficult to come by, but the last study done for Nzerekore indicated seven percent of the city's adult population had HIV, much higher than the national average.

Further east, along the border with Sierra Leone, pregnant women undergo free HIV testing.

HIV-positive pregnant women and mothers get free counseling and drugs to decrease the chances they will transmit the virus to their babies.

Mid-wife Fatoumata Guilavogui says, if she had access to more money, she would go to villages and mosques to organize information sessions about testing, protection and the risks of transmission. She says many Guineans remain full of taboos and stigmas, when it comes to this disease.

Mamadou Bodie Diallo is a doctor who helps coordinate activities between Guinea's government and the United Nations Children's Fund. He says HIV-related services need to be expanded. So far, less than 10 percent of pregnant women receive the free testing and counseling - most of them in cities.

He says, in rural areas, there are many local traditions which create unfortunate health problems.

He says these include polygamy and the custom of marrying female widows to the brother of a dead husband or if the woman dies first, immediately giving the widowed husband another wife from the same family.

He says this can create a deadly cycle, if AIDS is involved.

Back in Nzerekore, Sandy, the head of the local NGO, says, whichever way the disease was contracted, patients with terminal cases of AIDS should be allowed to die in dignity.

He says most of these victims are usually rejected by hospitals, thrown out on the streets to die when they have no more money. He says, even if they are going to die, they should at least die in a hospital. However, he says there is no money for such a program.