Somalia needs more funds to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and curbing stigma, according to local doctors. Little is known about HIV/AIDS in Somalia, as years of conflict and insecurity has limited collection of data, as well as access to basic services.
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) - Once a month, Aisha Nor makes her way to the Banadir hospital in Somalia's capitalMogadishu to have a blood test and to collect her anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.
Nor contracted the disease from her late husband and only discovered her status after tests at the hospital.
"I have been suffering from this disease (HIV/AIDS) for three years. I get free medication fromBanadir hospital but we do not get any kind of support from the new government," said Nor.
After two decades of civil war, Somalia's health system is in tatters.
Like Banadir, most hospitals in the country receive no government support and are funded by local and international aid organisations.
Treatment of HIV-positive patients was only rolled out here in 2005. HIV/AIDS was discovered in the late 1990s.
In Somalia's conservative Muslim society, HIV/AIDS is associated with promiscuity and issues of sexuality are rarely discussed.
HIV patients are discriminated against, so they try as much as possible to keep their status a secret.
At Banadir the identity of those infected is never revealed. Nurses call the patients using numbers not names.
Awareness campaigns that could address issues related to HIV/AIDS like stigma and protection are in their infancy in Somalia due to lack of funds, government officials say.
The new government which took office in September last year depends on international financing institutions and non-governmental organisations to finance all HIV/AIDS programs in the country.
"We request the Global AIDS Fund to increase resources to enable us to roll out awareness campaigns on HIV/AIDS. This information is vital because it will help people understand the cause of this disease and how they can prevent themselves from getting infected. We also need to train nurses and traditional midwives," said Lul Mohamed, HIV/AIDS program director at Banadir hospital.
Dr. Sacdiya Abdi Samad, director of health for the ministry of public service and human development says the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Somalia is about 0.94 percent, which is low compared to the other countries in the region.
But, Samad called for more assistance for HIV/AIDS programs which are struggling to stay afloat.
"The Somali government does not have the capacity to handle the needs of HIV/AIDs positive people due to lack of funds. We are however trying to manage with what we get from the Global AIDS Fund," she said.
UNAIDS figures of 2011 show that an estimated 35,000 Somalis are infected with the disease.
According to official figures one percent of the estimated 9 million people in Somalia is HIV positive. Yet, the exact number of people currently living with the disease is unknown because insecurity has limited the collection of data.