Interview with the Director of the Sudan National AIDS Control Programme Dr. Ehab Ali Hassan
Q.1 Dr. Ehab first, I wish to congratulate you on your new post as the Sudan National AIDS Control Programme (SNAP) director. How would you describe the current HIV situation in Sudan?
A. Sudan is a very large country with diversity in both climate and in ethnicity; hence the HIV situation also varies in the South and the North.
In the South, we consider the situation to be a generalized epidemic with a prevalence rate exceeding 1%. In the North however, the epidemic can be characterized as being a low to concentrated epidemic. Our recent Antenatal Care Sentinel Survey revealed that if current measures of prevention and mitigation are not proven to be very effective, Sudan will be characterized as having a generalized epidemic in the next five years.
Despite concerns of stigma and social discrimination, PLWHA took the lead this year in organizing their own associations and mobilizing communities against the threat of HIV in Sudan. Members of the association organized awareness sessions in 8 northern states and shared their own experiences in living positively with HIV. In each of these sessions, they explained the importance of voluntary testing and the availability of free palliative treatment to the public.
Q.2 In your opinion, what are SNAP’s greatest achievements since the discovery of the first HIV positive case in the eighties?
A. The first HIV positive case was discovered in 1987, and I feel that since then we have realized a lot. The establishment of PMTCT centers is one of our greatest achievements, in addition to improvement in blood transfusion which was previously completed without screening for HIV and other blood diseases. Now, almost all blood transfusions are given after screening. Furthermore, we have also succeeded in mobilizing large sectors of the society to advocate against stigma and discrimination directed towards PLWHA.
Q.3 Can you give us more insight into the new Sudan strategy for fighting HIV?
A. Prevention is one of the biggest thematic areas in this strategy in addition to care and treatment and fighting stigma. As you know we currently have around 1000 patients under regular treatment in different ART centers, we need to ensure that they receive quality service in all these centers. There is also another thematic area in the strategy dealing with impact mitigation targeting vulnerable populations such as orphans, and families of patients with HIV-related illness.
Q.4 How would you describe the current cooperation between SNAP and UNDP GFATM in fighting AIDS in Sudan?
A. There is a strong commitment observed both in SNAP and UNDP GFATM to help individuals affected by HIV. I personally feel that GFATM is an essential resource in the fight against AIDS here in Sudan, and we are working together to reach a better understanding to make the optimum use of these grants for the best interest of Sudanese people.
Q.5 What would you highlight about the role of civil society organizations in the response to HIV?
A. We rely heavily on the contribution and the response of the civil society because when we talk about prevention, we are talking about behavioral change in the society that can be achieved through civil society organizations. Some of these civil societies however lack the experience and their capacity needs empowerment, and I think with assistance from SNAP and other partners, we can achieve a lot.
Q.6 I understand that there have been efforts made by UNDP and SNAP regarding the enactment of a bill for human rights protection of PLWHA, has that taken place yet?
A. Regarding the enactment of a law that protects the rights of PLWHA, we have worked intensively during the past two months with the Ministry of Justice to finalize this bill. Now, a draft zero of the Law is ready to be ratified by the National Assembly. All clauses of the draft are meant to preserve the rights of PLWHA and to reduce stigma.
Q.8 You recently have met with H.E. President Omer Al-Bashir, what were the major highlights of that meeting?
A. I had a very fruitful meeting with H. E. President Al-Bashir where I briefed him on the current epidemiological status in the country and the national response to the epidemic. I also briefed His Excellency on efforts of national response to AIDS through the provision of prevention, care and treatment in VCTs, ARTs and PMTCT centers in 15 states.
Furthermore, I briefed the President on the current funds available for HIV/AIDS activities, and highlighted the role of the international community in funding HIV/AIDS activities through GFATM and UN agencies. A representative from the Association of PLWHA was present during the meeting where he relayed to the President for the first time the concerns of PLWHA regarding social stigma and the rights of PLWHA to lead a normal live.
The PLWHA further extended a letter of thanks to President Al-Bashir for his continuous support to the Association. The president commended the efforts made by SNAP and its partners in responding to HIV/AIDS, and reiterated his strong political commitment to support national response in Sudan. He further announced his endorsement to three key messages for World AIDS Day which will be broadcast in the media very soon.