A senior official from the United Nations agency leading the global response to HIV/AIDS welcomed today South Sudan’s renewed commitment to fighting the rate of new infections in the world’s youngest nation.
“These efforts are a testament to the resilience of the South Sudanese people and a clear sign of their desire to achieve a viable independent State,” UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director of Programme, Luiz Loures said following a meeting in the capital, Juba, with President Salva Kiir.
In 2012, an estimated 150,000 people were living with HIV in South Sudan, with AIDS-related deaths almost doubling since 2001, from 6,900 to 13,000 in 2012, according to UNAIDS.
The UN agency also noted that of those who were eligible for lifesaving antiretroviral therapy under the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2010 guidelines, just 9 per cent had access. While only 13 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV had access to services to prevent transmission of the virus to their child.
The population of South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, is largely made up of young people. More than half of the population is under the age of 18, and 72 per is cent under the age of 30, according to the World Bank.
Following the meeting with UNAIDS, President Kiir acknowledged the necessity to tailor HIV services to the needs of young people, “If they are left vulnerable, there will be no country.”
During the meeting, the UN agency said that Dr. Loures emphasized the need to firmly engage the armed forces in the response to HIV.
The UN has been working with non-governmental partners to provide condoms to the South Sudanese military in a bid to tackle the high rates of infection among soldiers, estimated at over four per cent. In an effort to tackle this trend, the army established an HIV Secretariat in 2006.
Dr. Loures also addressed the UN peacekeeping mission troops deployed in South Sudan working with UNMISS. He highlighted the responsibility that peacekeepers have in preventing gender-based violence and sexual exploitation in their operational zones - two key factors that exacerbate the spread of HIV in conflict and post-conflict settings, as outlined in the UN Security Council in Resolution 1983.
In addition to President Kiir, the Deputy Executive Director also met with other government officials during his visit, as well as UN development partners.