Addis Ababa — Ethiopia is facing serious challenges in overcoming its HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a report released by the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Wednesday.
"The key challenge is to help men and women move beyond pervasive stigma and denial," said the brief - a first-year progress report for the five-year strategy, launched in Ethiopia in 2004.
In addition to entrenched stigma and discrimination, poor health care access and a lack of water and electricity in some areas were listed as key constraints.
Aaron Snipe, PEPFAR's Ethiopia coordinator, told IRIN: "With 1.6 million infected - making Ethiopia fifth in the world in the number of people infected with HIV - Ethiopia has a serious problem.
"We are committed to Ethiopia in supporting those who are not only infected but affected by HIV as well," he added.
Wednesday's report also noted that women remained particularly vulnerable with "social and cultural institutions" accepting sexual violence, which increased infections rates.
A separate progress report, presented to the US congress last month by the country's global AIDS coordinator, Randall Tobias, said Ethiopia was a long way from meeting key targets.
Tobias's report stated that 30,000 Ethiopians infected or affected by HIV/AIDS were receiving care and treatment. By 2008, PEPFAR hoped that one million people would be receiving support.
It added that, one year after PEPFAR was launched, some 15,000 orphans were receiving help, which the US hoped to expand to half a million by 2008.
Only 9,500 Ethiopians, it went on, were receiving life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs - 5 percent of those who needed them. This meant the country ranked third from bottom out of the 15 countries targeted by PEPFAR.
US officials at the launch of the report were unable to say which 2004 targets had been met, as they were still compiling the data. Aurelia Brazeal, the US ambassador to Ethiopia, said that despite the massive impact of the virus, Ethiopia was making inroads.
"HIV/AIDS is one of the world's greatest but saddest challenges - a challenge that is our responsibility and obligation to meet," she told experts at the launch.
Snipe said that America spent $43 million in Ethiopia in 2004 to fight the continuing spread of the virus. A further $61 million was earmarked for this year - half of which will pay for antiretroviral drugs, he added.
Statistics released by the Ethiopian government at the beginning of 2005 showed that the HIV prevalence rate in urban areas has reached a plateau. Some 900,000 people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since 1986.
That figure would rise to 1.8 million by 2008 if current trends continued, the government predicted. Mortality rates among teachers, for example, had already risen by 5 percent. Life expectancy had been cut by five years to 46 because of HIV, it said.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]