The International Organization for Migration has launched an innovative program to bring HIV/AIDS prevention and counseling to migrant populations in Ethiopia.

The International Organization for Migration has set up mobile units in places where truck drivers and other travelers are likely to stop; at food stores, restaurants, and fueling stops.

IOM Spokesman, Jean-Philippe Chauzy said nurses and counselors at the mobile units distribute condoms and provide information material on HIV/AIDS. He said migrants also are offered counseling and testing, as well as treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections.

"It is true to say that mobile populations are probably engaged in higher risk activities. They are away from home and if you take for instance the group of truck drivers, there is a link between them and professional sex workers. So, it is important basically to make sure that this particular group, the mobile population, also gets HIV/AIDS prevention. It is important to make sure that awareness exists within that mobile group," Mr. Chauzy said.

A few months ago, IOM conducted a pilot project in Nazareth and Dessie in northern Ethiopia. The project targeted truck drivers, commercial sex workers, demobilized soldiers, and gold miners.

Mr. Chauzy said the project was extremely successful. He said more than 500 people were treated for Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and about 1,500 others received counseling and testing services. He said 85 people were trained as counselor educators.

"As part of the program, there will be lots of HIV/AIDS counselors who will be trained on the job. So, even if that program comes to an end in six-months time, we will train with our colleagues from U.N./AIDS, and WHO will have trained counselors and educators in Ethiopia who will be able to carry on the work beyond the program. And, this is also very important to make sure you can train trainers and to make sure that counselors, educators, get the message and spread the message in the coming years," Mr. Chauzy said.

The services are free of charge and are conducted on an anonymous, confidential basis.

Mr. Chauzy said IOM would like to extend this program to migrant populations in other parts of Africa. He said the problem of HIV/AIDS in Africa is staggering and programs that can help prevent its spread are critical.