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Senegal on good track to fight AIDS, but facing social barrier
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20:58, December 01, 2008

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Senegal is on a good track to control HIV/AIDS, while facing a social barrier to break through, officials told Xinhua on the eve of Monday's World AIDS Day.

"Senegal is on a good track, as it is one of the rare countries" in the prevention and control of the epidemic since 1986, considered a model for maintaining the incidence at 0.70 percent in Africa, said Dr. Ibra Ndoye, the secretary general of the National Council of Fighting against AIDS (CNLS).

In the treatment of AIDS patients, "Senegal is the first country in Africa to put in place access to the antiretroviral (ARV) medications in 1998" and provided free access to ARV for persons affected with HIV/AIDS in 2004, he said.

The practice was hailed as a success in early November by the office of the United Nations in Senegal, the official said in an interview with Xinhua.

The country has also witnessed an increasing number of women receiving medical check-ups in precaution of mother-to-child infection, with 40,000 women taking the HIV/AIDS test in 2007 and 45,000 doing it this year.

Meanwhile, the CNLS chief admitted cases of delayed medical check-ups and treatment. Some even complained about the slow work in preventing mother-child transmission.

Ndoye blamed the drawbacks largely on a so-called "social-cultural barrier," a traditional conception which blocks women from taking the test.

"We confront with a cultural problem. Only 65 percent of women in our center come for the check-ups. But there are still 30 percent in absence, because husbands refuse to allow their wives to do the test," he said.

Magatte Mbodj, the executive director of the National Alliance against AIDS (ANCS), which coordinates the prevention and control of the disease, said the cultural barrier blocks the treatment of patients as the institution has observed "patients' reticency" on their disease.

"There are still more cases of reticency linked to stigmatization and discrimination," Mbodj said. "Even though the ARV medications are gratuitous, in certain localities of the country, the men hesitate to take them in fear of being stigmatized. They are worried that if they take the medications at home, people will suspect their serologic state," she added.

Mbodj, among others, fears the cost is running high, saying the medical report "is expensive and poses a problem for today."

The officials talked about their pros and cons before Senegal, for the second time, hosts an international conference on AIDS and sexually-transmitted infections in Africa on Dec. 3-7.


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