Hargeisa - (Monday 13 November 2006) "Due to the high level of mobility in the Horn of Africa, important population groups consistently remain outside the reach of national efforts to address HIV/AIDS. It is imperative that we jointly respond to HIV vulnerability among mobile populations and the host populations with whom they interact”. This was the consensus of representatives of AIDS Commissions from Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, north and south Sudan, Somaliland, Puntland and south central Somalia who began a three-day meeting in Hargeisa, Somaliland on Monday, to agree concrete action on the Regional Partnership to address HIV Vulnerability and Cross-border mobility in the Horn of Africa.
The sub-region is currently facing arduous humanitarian crises, major development challenges and public health concerns, coupled with varying degrees of HIV prevalence. Located at the crossroads of the Middle East and Africa, and with a population of approximately 130 million, the Horn of Africa is characterized by socio-cultural and historical links, as well as mobility between countries. "The notion of physical borders between countries in the Horn is somewhat of a misnomer given the daily unchecked movement over the porous border crossings.
HIV/AIDS knows no borders,” said Leo Kenny, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Somalia.
Approximately two million people are living with HIV within the concerned countries. "We have a long history of movement across borders in our region, and we know that mobile population groups may have limited access to HIV prevention and treatment services. This is a challenge to the region in its entirety and cannot be solved through national responses alone.” said Dr Muse Kassim, Executive Director of the Somaliland AIDS Commission.
This meeting in Hargeisa follows an initial gathering in Djibouti in July 2006 hosted by Minister of Health HE Abdallah Abdillahi Miguil, where the AIDS Commissions representatives together with key international partners agreed to form the regional partnership on HIV/AIDS.
According to Dr Mohamed Ahmed Abdelhafeez of the Sudan National AIDS Program, large population movements across borders as a consequence of trade, conflict, socio-economic instability, etc., is cause for concern for national governments, as well as for humanitarian and development actors, present in the region. "Issues relating to legal status, limited access to health and related services, and diverse risk factors, are among some of the formidable challenges to address HIV within these communities,” he said.
The participants are expected to agree on one framework of immediate action for the most vulnerable groups, one regional coordination mechanism and one monitoring and evaluation plan. The regional plan will then be tabled at a meeting of 11 countries' Ministers of Health which Djibouti will host at the end of November this year. Sinead Ryan from the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Middle East and North Africa said that, "Given the recent global momentum to scale-up towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services, it is recognized by national and international partners alike that this will not be a reality in the Horn of Africa without concerted regionally agreed action addressing HIV vulnerability and cross-border mobility.”
All references to Somaliland pertain to the self-declared but unrecognised Republic of Somaliland.