|Subject: The Age: East Timor move to combat
The Age [Melbourne] June 10 2002
East Timor move to combat AIDS
By Jill Jolliffe Dili
East Timorese planners have begun work to combat the spread of AIDS.
At the newly independent country's first conference on the issue, the UN Secretary-General's new head of mission, Kamalesh Sharma, said that because East Timor was beginning afresh, "policy-makers have a unique opportunity to learn from other countries".
He pledged that his office would draw up a prevention program for UN peacekeepers and civilians.
Joe Thomas, adviser on HIV/AIDS to East Timor's Ministry of Health, said that since last September seven cases had been recorded nationally, resulting in one death.
For many, the UN promise of a program for its own staff comes late. A peak in HIV infection figures in Darwin in 2000 suggested that they might be a source of infection. Eight cases were detected among UN staff on leave from East Timor, resulting in the infection of two local people.
Jan Savage, head of Darwin's AIDS program, warned "it is quite plausible that HIV will be transmitted to the East Timorese from the foreign workers".
The rate of infection during the Indonesian period is not known. However, Health Minister Rui Maria Araujo said some infections might have dated from then because of prostitution and "the great mobility with which Timorese travelled to other areas of Indonesia". But he added that the UN had "not succeeded in regulating matters" during the transition period, "which will probably contribute to the spread of the epidemic".
He said of prevention measures among peacekeepers: "We still are in a phase of a mass international presence, with around 5000 internationals, so it's never too late."
Estimates give the infection rate as a low 0.64 per cent of the population. Health workers fear it may climb, given the international presence and the increase in prostitution.
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