SOMALIA: High-risk truckers still unaware of HIV
HARGEISA, 26 March 2010 (PLUSNEWS) - The truck drivers who criss-cross Somalia are considered at high risk of HIV, but incomplete prevention messages mean they are ill-equipped to protect themselves against the virus.
"The highest risk of disease spreading can come from the drivers who are going from town to town, deep in Somalia to Puntland [autonomous region in the northeast of Somalia] all the way to south-central Somalia and coming back to Somaliland," Hassan Omar Hagga, director of training at the Somaliland AIDS Commission (SOLNAC) secretariat, told IRIN/PlusNews.
He noted that border towns were of particular concern.
"In Tog-wajale [Somalia-Ethiopia border town] there are sex workers, but we do not recommend the use of condoms because we are a Muslim state," he said. "For this reason we can't urge people to use condoms; on the contrary, we tell people to give up adultery."
As a result of this policy, truck drivers and sex workers often hold misconceptions about condoms and as such, rarely use them.
"We do not use condoms at all, but sometimes we use plastic bags," said Karshe Gele*, a truck driver in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa. "We consider that condoms are the carriers [of HIV].
"We know that it [HIV] is transmitted through sexual intercourse, but we think that [prevalence] is not much in Somaliland," he added.
HIV prevalence in Somaliland has risen from about 0.9 percent in 1999 to 1.3 percent in 2007, according to Said Ahmed Abdi Mouse, communication and awareness officer for SOLNAC.
"We have made tangible [progress] against HIV-related stigma compared with 1999, when it was a shock to talk about HIV/AIDS publicly, but still stigma and limited education about the disease exist in the country, particularly in remote areas," SOLNAC's Hagga added.
* Not his real name