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Cameroon Facing Rapid Spread of AIDS - 2004-10-19


Cameroon has experienced one of the most rapid spreads of HIV infection among adults in the whole of West and Central Africa. The government of Cameroon says it has a broad strategy to fight AIDS.

"Partership for us is the key to tackle the HIV and AIDS crisis, private public partnership, partnership with NGOs," said Urbain Olanguena Awana, the Minister of Health. "We also [put] stress on treatment and today we have succeeded to give treatments at affordable prices in Cameroon."

At the noisy military hospital in the capital Yaounde, more than 100 HIV positive patients sit on wooden benches, waiting to get their free doses of antiretroviral treatment.

One of them is a young woman who discovered she was HIV positive last year when her fourth child was stillborn.

She says the program which is being run by the French-based Doctors Without Borders is not complicated.

She says all you have to do is fill out a few forms and, more importantly, it's free.

She says she now has hope, because she has seen other patients get better. She says she can begin to think of living again.

For those who are not enrolled in the program, the government has used international funding to subsidize the prices of ARV drugs to bring them down to as little as eight dollars per month.

Cameroon's HIV infection rate for adults, which was below one percent in 1989, is above 12 percent today, and there are different subtypes of the virus here.

Cameroon's government has invited top researchers to study this high HIV diversity.

Nathan Wolfe from the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University is developing a vaccine. He says his research is in the preliminary stages, but the work already has produced some benefits.

"We actually do quite a bit in order to do the research," he said. "It includes the training of scientists, includes development of infrastructure and transfer of technology.

"It also includes technical assistance for prevention, and ultimately to develop vaccines, which are going to cover the sorts of diversity of HIV, which is present here in Cameroon," continued Mr. Wolfe. "So I think that it's a program that's broader than just the research that can help locally as well as in a broader way."

Dozens of local non-governmental organizations also work alongside the government to help overcome discrimination against those who are infected with HIV at the workplace, schools and in hospitals.

Researchers say one area where not enough work is being done is educating teenagers, most of whom become sexually active at the age of 16, about safe sex practices.

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