World Aids Day: Does Mauritania Have A Fighting Chance?

December 1st marks World AIDS Day. The theme for World AIDS Day this year is, “Getting to Zero” – Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths. Addressing the livelihoods outcomes of those living with HIV contributes significantly to all of these goals.

The significant decrease in global HIV rates indicates that the fight against AIDS is producing results. According to U.N. statistics, new infections have fallen by 20 percent over the last decade, and infection rates have stabilized or slowed in nearly all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, in conservative Muslim countries like Mauritania the figures are unlikely to reflect the full situation. The latest official statistics from UNAIDS, reports that the adult HIV prevalence rate in Mauritania is 0.8 percent; roughly 14,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS out of a population of 3.2 million people. Mauritanians hardly go for voluntary testing and HIV statistics on the country are mainly sentinel figures obtained from hospital records. While the actual infection rate in Mauritania is likely to be significantly higher than the official figures show, it is believed to be relatively low compared to other countries in West Africa.

National Response to HIV/AIDS
In 2002, a National Strategy for 2003-2007 was developed to fight HIV/AIDS in Mauritania. With the help of funding from the Global Fund and World Bank the government created the Conseil National de Lutte Contre le SIDA (CNLS) chaired by the Prime Minister to act as the lead decision-making body for the national response to HIV/AIDS. This committee has developed and adopted the national HIV/AIDS policy and strategy, and ensures the implementation and mobilization of resources in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Mauritania.

Consequently, due to fraudulent and unjustified spending, on September 2009, the Global Fund suspended funding to Mauritania’s National AIDS Committee. After further investigation, they stated that it would stop making new grants until at least 2014 and would bring in a new manager to help administer the fund.

Where does this leave the country now?

People living with HIV in Mauritania are voicing their concerns about the suspension of HIV/AIDS funding by the World Bank and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. They feel powerless in the face of the decisions, of which they are suffering the consequences. A few months ago dozens of people living with HIV organized a sit-in in front of the World Bank building in the capital Nouakchott to draw the Bank’s and the international community’s attention to their situation.

While, Global Fund-financed HIV/AIDS programs have been suspended this has not affected patients who were already on ARVs before the irregularities were discovered – just over 1,000 people have continued to receive their medication; but it has not been impossible to add any new patients (totaling around 40 people a month) to the treatment program.

It is unfortunate but, Mauritania has a long way to go before they  meeting the goals of this year’s “World Aids Day”.



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