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UN refugee agency joins fight against HIV/AIDS

UN refugee agency joins fight against HIV/AIDS

The United Nations agencies for refugees and for HIV/AIDS have teamed up as part of the effort to strengthen the world body’s response to the global epidemic of the disease.

In signing a memorandum of understanding yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) becomes the 10th co-sponsor of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

“Even though the prevalence of HIV in refugee populations is often lower than in the surrounding host community, refugees are at risk of infection as they are a vulnerable population and can be exposed to sexual violence because of conflict,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said in Geneva. “UNHCR considers HIV prevention an essential component of its overall protection of refugees.”

Ms. Pagonis noted that refugees are often excluded from host countries' HIV programmes and that the agency considered reaching those individuals a vital HIV-prevention strategy. “It is also vital for the host populations,” she added. “With 5,000 staff in more than 120 countries often in remote locations, UNHCR is in a unique position to provide HIV/AIDS programmes to refugees and people of concern to us.”

The UN agency has established an HIV/AIDS unit and is becoming more active in the areas of voluntary counselling, testing and prevention of mother to child transmission. It is also providing minimal and essential HIV interventions in emergency refugee situations and carry out more comprehensive HIV/AIDS programmes in stable situations.

“Africa has been the main target of our programmes as it hosts the second-largest refugee population globally and has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world. UNHCR plans to have more comprehensive HIV/AIDS programmes in Asia in early 2005,” she said.