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MSF shifts Mongolian HIV/AIDS programs to partner groups

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Ulaan Bataar - The international medical relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has been working to curtail the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Mongolia for more than two years, has completed its operations and will now shift the overview of continuing efforts to fight HIV/AIDS to Mongolian governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Although documented HIV infection rates in Mongolia have remained extremely low - only two confirmed cases to date - Mongolian officials are concerned about rising rates of HIV/AIDS infections in neighboring Russia and China, and alarming increases in reported STI cases among the Mongolian people. During the 1990s, syphilis levels in a study group of pregnant Mongolian women rose by a factor of five and gonorrhea infection rates by a factor of 60, indicating a relaxed attitude toward safe sex among the population.

MSF was already implementing a successful HIV/AIDS and safe sex awareness campaign in Moscow, Russia, and Mongolian health administrators hoped the same could be done for their country. In 1999, MSF, in close collaboration with the Mongolian Ministry of Health (MoH), launched a three-part approach to increase public awareness about HIV/AIDS/STIs and safe sex issues, including the country's first safe sex mass media campaigns, the first pre- and post-HIV/STI counseling training programs, and the first HIV/AIDS/STI information center.

With MSF's two-and-a-half year commitment coming to an end, the organisation has now handed over the management and overview of these programs they will continue under the direction of the MoH and Mongolian NGOs.

The most visible aspect of the programs was the implementation of a two-phase mass media campaign designed to relax conservative cultural attitudes inhibiting discussion of HIV/AIDS and safe sex issues. The campaign messages were used television and radio spots, outdoor advertising and brochures. Surveys following the two six-month campaigns, conducted in 2000 and 2001, showed they reached the 15- to 25-year-old target audience, with more than 70 percent of respondents saying they had seen the campaigns and over 85 percent saying they approved of it.

More importantly, those who saw the campaigns were one-and-a-half times more likely to use condoms and practice safe sex than those who did not. The MoH and other organizations are currently exploring the possibility of conducting additional mass media campaigns in the future. The other two programs were directed toward the Mongolian health care community. Creation of the country's first pre- and post-HIV/STI test counseling program is designed to provide specialized training for health professionals.

More than 250 members of the Mongolian health care community from all 21 provinces have been trained since the operation began, with many establishing training programs of their own. This program will be continued by 12 trainers representing different specialties and operating under the direction of the Mongolian NGO Mongol Vision with support from the MoH.

The country's first AIDS/HIV/STIs information and research facility was established to assist health professionals by providing accurate and up-to-date information about treatment, research and other issues. The center is now being administered by the Mongolian NGO National AIDS Foundation, also with the support of the MoH.