BRAZZAVILLE, 18 January 2013 (PlusNews) - The HIV infection rate has declined among pregnant women in the Republic of Congo from 3.4 percent in 2009 to 2.8 percent in 2012, according to a study by the Ministry of Health, which said it had taken specific action to help this section of the population.
"This significant decrease is due to many innovative and effective actions: screening using a mobile unit, as well as HIV/AIDS fairs throughout Congo to help inform young people about their vulnerability," said Health Minister François Ibovi.
"We have been urging pregnant women to get tested - and they are doing so. This allows them to receive treatment if they are HIV-positive, and their newborn children are supported in terms of antiretrovirals (ARVs),” Franck Marie Puruehnce, executive secretary of the National Council for Combating HIV/AIDS (CNLS), told IRIN.
"HIV infection among pregnant women is continuing to fall," she said, adding that despite this decline, the epidemic is becoming more feminine-specific “due to the low purchasing power of women, who are sometimes unable to avoid risky sexual encounters".
According to Puruehnce, protection of mother-to-child transmission services are available in health centres throughout the country.
Officially, HIV/AIDS prevalence in Congo is 3.2 percent, against 4.2 percent in 2003. The country (population 3.6 million) has 83,000 patients; women are twice as affected as men.
HIV rates vary according to different sections of the population. They are 7.5 percent among sex workers and 26 percent among homosexuals.
For Michel Bitemo, monitoring, evaluation and strategic information adviser at the UNAIDS office in Brazzaville, "the best protection against AIDS is knowing your status…
"We must move towards universal knowledge of HIV infection," he advised, regretting the fact that only 12 percent of people knew their HIV status.
According to Michel Bitemo, "Congo can only maintain or improve results if financial resources are constantly increased."
"If funding falls, we will not have better, but worse, results. The HIV/AIDS response is 50 percent government-funded which is a good thing because in other countries it is below 50 percent, "said Bitemo.
At the last session of the National Council for the Fight against AIDS, the authorities recommended setting up a response fund.
"This fund will be funded by the government and industries such as oil, timber and mining... as well as international partners such as the World Bank and the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis]," said Puruehnce.
"We want to reorganize the financing of the response to ensure no target is missed," she added.