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SUDAN: People with HIV demand safe drinking water
Safe water means improved chances of survival for HIV-infected mothers and children
Juba, 12 May 2008 (IRIN) - For years, Lole Laila Lole had to drink, cook with, and bathe in the dirty, contaminated water he fetched from the River Nile. "There was no other way," he told IRIN/PlusNews.
Lole, chairperson of an association for people living with HIV/AIDS in southern Sudan, discovered he was HIV-positive after falling ill in 2002 and travelling to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where the country's only HIV testing facility at the time was located.
Due to their weakened immune systems, people living with HIV are particularly susceptible to infections and diseases that can be present in untreated water. But after testing positive, Lole was forced to return to the virtually non-existent water system of Juba, the southern capital, which had been at war for close to two decades.
The conflict ended in 2005, but government leaders in the south say they lack adequate resources to redevelop the war-ravaged region and deliver services such as providing safe water.
Since the end of the war, treatment tablets have become available in the shops, and HIV-positive people who can afford them are now able to protect themselves from the outbreaks of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases that are common in this region.
This year, non-profit organisation, Population Services International (PSI), with funding from the United States Centres for Disease Control, began including water treatment tablets in the basic care packets they distribute to people with HIV every three months.
Water Guard, the brand name of the tablets being distributed, is helping to keep people healthy in areas of the south where antiretroviral treatment is unavailable. Each care packet contains 90 tablets, and each tablet treats 25 litres of water. The packet also includes a jerry can with a tap at the bottom, water containers, condoms, two mosquito nets and educational materials on malaria and how to prevent HIV infection.
"The health indicators [in southern Sudan] are very low," said Erin Stuckey, HIV/AIDS technical advisor to PSI in southern Sudan. "If you have a high incidence of watery diarrhoea and a high incidence of malaria, the HIV-positive people would be affected the most."
The decision to include Water Guard in PSI's care packets was partly in response to pressure from people living with HIV. The fruits of this effort were visible last month, when hundreds of HIV-positive people swarmed the office of the Sudan Council of Churches in Juba. Five hundred people received packets, but more than two hundred had to be turned away.
Women in Sudan also face very high maternal health risks, which are exacerbated by the unavailability of clean water. According to the United Nations Population Fund, a Sudanese woman's lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is estimated at 1 in 30. The risks are significantly higher for HIV-positive mothers and babies, particularly if they are unable to access safe drinking water.
"It's a major concern for us; we feel that they must have access to clean water," said Dr Angok Kuol, executive director of the Southern Sudan AIDS Commission. "If they don't have safe water, they are always prone to infections such as watery diarrhoea."
PSI's Stuckey said the programme to distribute care packets to people living with HIV would be expanded into other areas of southern Sudan in the near future. Meanwhile, several organisations, including the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Solidarités, a French non-governmental organisation, are raising awareness about hygiene and sanitation, drilling boreholes and repairing existing water points across the south.