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Group Works to Reduce High HIV Infection Rate in Britain - 2004-03-12

Africans living in Britain are among the communities that are the most severely affected by HIV/AIDS, and they have decided to take the lead in combating the epidemic.

By a considerable margin, the African community in Britain has the highest HIV-infection rate in the country. According to last year's figures, of those who have been infected through heterosexual transmission, 80 percent are of African origin.

Head of the African HIV Policy Network, Max Sesay, said the infection pattern among Africans in Britain has been slowly changing.

"In the very early days, it used to be mostly east African communities that used to show up in the statistics in the UK - Ugandans, Kenyans and Tanzanians," he said. "Now, over the years, the epidemic has reflected infections from central Africa, southern Africa and, now, increasingly, and at a faster rate, western African communities."

Mr. Sesay spoke to VOA at a conference in London on HIV prevention.

He said Africans in Britain have slowly accepted they need to undergo testing, but it has not been easy. He says the social prejudices surrounding AIDS are still strong.

The HIV Policy Network is lobbying on a national level and working with local groups on education and prevention programs.

"Across the country, we have established what we call African forums, and we have 12 African forums across England," he explained. "Now, what these forums do is to pool together within the locality all of the providers providing services to African communities and lobby and support and do advocacy at a local level, work together, and where possible share knowledge, share expertise, support each other and lobby with their local districts and local authorities."

He says the network is so effective in its work, it is attracting interest from other countries, including the United States, France and Germany.

"For us, it is a fantastic experience. It is very unique in terms of the structure, and it is something that we intend to export to wider Europe," he said.

He says, with enough funds, the African HIV Policy Network could be transplanted onto continental Europe as soon as next year.