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Rise in HIV prevalence among South Sudanese refugees in Uganda

Tuesday, 2 September, 2014

There has been an estimated 15 percent increase in new HIV infections among South Sudanese refugees in a Ugandan refugee camp. Since the conflict in South Sudan re-erupted, 1.5 million people have been displaced, with over 421,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Uganda. In one Ugandan refugee camp, Kiryandogo, the population is increasing every day with an expected 35,000 refugees by the end of 2014. The rising population in the camp is having a profound effect on the provision of health services, with service providers struggling to provide adequate services and care.

Whist progress has been made to improve hygiene, such as building toilets and creating and maintaining clean water supplies to the camp, other areas needs remain immense. This increasing population is placing pressure on the available health services, with service providers seeing over 20 patients per hour. This strain on services is deeply concerning due to the rise of infectious diseases among the camp, specifically HIV and malaria. A lack of HIV and AIDS information services within the camp and no mobile testing and counselling services are critical factors for the increase in HIV. In many instances, refugees will leave conflict-torn countries with low prevalence rates, to more stable countries, with higher prevalence rates. These issues particularly affect young people, with no youth-centres available to engage these populations in HIV education and raise awareness of the growing problem among the camp. Gender-based violence is a further challenge, with women not reporting instances of abuse and also the lack of health and legal services to help the abused.

These issues facing the Kiryandogo camp echo that of many other refugee camps. Rising volumes of patients, highly infectious settings and a lack of education and information services mean that HIV and other infectious diseases can spread rapidly. Faced with limited funding, there is a limit to how much service providers can offer and in many cases, services such as youth centres and health information services fail to be prioritised. With the conflict in South Sudan escalating daily and displaced populations increasing, many refugees are facing more challenging health settings that require immediate attention and an increase in funding.