UNHCR study challenges assumptions about refugees and HIV spread

UNHCR, GENEVA, June 29:

2 excerpts: A new UNHCR study of seven African nations challenges previous assumptions that conflict, forced displacement and widespread rape have increased the prevalence of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and that refugees fleeing conflict spread the infection in host communities.

The study, published this week in the British medical journal The Lancet, says a survey of data on HIV prevalence in 12 refugee camps showed that nine actually had a lower prevalence of infection than surrounding host communities, while two had similar rates and only one a higher prevalence …

… Dr. Spiegel said that refugees could actually become more vulnerable to HIV infection depending upon the prevalence of surrounding communities with whom they interact. He added that strong and comprehensive prevention programmes needed to be set up to protect refugees against HIV when they were in such vulnerable situations.

Furthermore, he emphasized that the survey also showed that more attention needed to be paid to the post-conflict period where accessibility and mobility of populations recovering from war may create an environment conducive to the spread of HIV.

The UNHCR official said the report was aimed in part at policymakers and the media, “to not always blame refugees for everything.” Dr. Spiegel said it would also benefit “actors in the field” and ensure that UNHCR and its partners reintensify prevention efforts towards refugees and strategize about HIV programmes in countries emerging from conflict. (full text).

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