A newly published official survey of AIDS in Benin has revealed an HIV prevalance rate of 2.0 percent, less than half the infection rate of 4.1 percent which had previously been reported.
However experts warned that this sharp drop reflected improved survey methodology, rather than any dramatic success in bringing the AIDS infection rate under control.
Marie Constance d'Almeida Melome, a spokeswoman for the government's National Plan to Fight AIDS (PLNS), said the latest sentinel survey of 7,800 pregnant women tested at ante-natal clinics in 2002 and 2003 showed an HIV infection rate of 2.0 percent.
That compared with an infection rate of 4.1 percent in the previous sentinel survey, conducted in 2000, she noted.
But d'Almeida Melome explained that "the fall is not due to any change of behaviour, but rather to an increase in the number of sentinel sites."
"These increased from seven in exclusively urban areas to 39 spread right across the country."
Philippe Duamelle of the UN’s children’s agency (UNICEF) told IRIN that Benin could not afford to be complacent given it’s location on a major trade route. Benin is sandwiched between Nigeria and Togo on the Abidjan-Lagos corridor, the busiest overland transport route in West Africa.
Last year the World Bank approved a US $16.6 million grant for projects to combat the spread of AIDS project along the Corridor. It estimates that three million people travel along the 800 km coastal highway from Nigeria to Cote-d'Ivoire every year and that 10 percent of them are HIV positive.
The focus of that grant was to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS among high-risk groups such as transport workers, migrants, commercial sex workers and local residents in all five countries along the route.
“One study presented in 2004 revealed a prevalence rate of 50 percent among sex workers [in Benin],” Duamelle said.
“Such figures should remind people that they should not be complacent about the risk of HIV infection and should be on the guard."
The UNICEF official said the government of Benin was planning to release the results of a new HIV prevalence survey, conducted in 2004, during the coming weeks.