By Noel King
Dec 3, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — The United Nations says it is making progress in combating HIV/AIDS in Sudan, but warned that infection rates may be on the rise in the war-torn Darfur region. The United Nations estimates that Sudan has the highest rate of HIV infection in north Africa and the Middle East.
U.N. representatives said on Sunday there is growing awareness about HIV/AIDS in Sudan.
A partial survey taken in 2002 indicates that some 650,000 people are infected with the disease.
In Sudan’s primarily Muslim north those infected with HIV complain that they face enormous social stigma and have a difficult time getting jobs.
What is more, conflicts in various regions throughout Sudan have limited the U.N.’s ability to inform Sudanese about the spread of the disease.
U.N. AIDS country coordinator Moussa Bungudu said Saturday that the rate of infection in Darfur may be on the rise.
"We do not know the details of how many people have the disease. But there are suggestions that the number of people who have the disease is increasing," said Bungudu. "When a population is displaced the social economic base is totally affected. There is likely to be a change in behavior. All of us need to pay attention to Darfur."
Statistics on infection rates in Sudan have long remained uncertain.
Much of southern Sudan was rendered inaccessible during the nation’s 21-year civil war, which ended in 2005.
The United Nations has planned a comprehensive survey on infection rates in Sudan for the year 2007.
Bungudu said if the conflict in the western region continues, statistics on HIV/AIDS in Darfur may be equally uncertain.
"If you are going to do a successful survey, you want to have each community represented in that survey," he continued. "Those areas where the fighting is ongoing are likely not to be involved. It can be very dangerous to access there. Therefore there will not be equal representation in the selection process. The bottom line is the disease is in Darfur."
At present, the HIV infection rate in the nation of 41 million people is estimated to be about 1.6 percent.