Oil firms back AIDS project in the Niger delta

Island community to be focus of anti-HIV initiative.

Bonny island, Nigeria

Oil and gas companies have set up a three-year project to tackle the rapid spread of AIDS around one of the largest facilities in the Niger delta.

King Edward XI of Bonny Island announced the partnership on 1 December, World AIDS Day, saying he hoped it would “rouse the community into action” and lead to free treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. The island, with a population of about 150,000, houses a vast US$15-billion liquefied natural-gas plant.

The Bonny Island initiative, named Ibani-se, is initially being supported by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas, Shell and Exxon-Mobil to address the welfare of the local community. The companies spent $600,000 to start it this year and are expected to put in another $1.4 million in 2007.

The initiative is led by Donald de Korte, a physician and consultant to drug company Merck, who used to run the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships in Botswana. The plan is to consult local people and establish Ibani-se as a community-based project funded not just by oil and gas companies but by sources such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The challenges of operating in the lawless and volatile delta mean little has been done so far to confront the menace of AIDS. High infection rates are fuelled, researchers suspect, by rampant sexual interaction between oil workers, other migrant labour and the many sex workers who surround the oil and gas facilities. Project officials chose Bonny Island because it provides a distinct entity for monitoring and treatment, and is stably governed by the king. It is one of the few places in the delta secure enough for such an initiative to work.

A survey of 800 households suggests that the AIDS prevalence on the island is around 8%, almost twice the national average. The project plans to counsel and test 30,000 people for HIV over three years, and offer antiretroviral treatment at Bonny General Hospital, the island's dilapidated medical facility. “The first priority is to equip and staff the hospital properly,” says Douglas Pepple, its senior physician.

The project's organizers hope to have 50 patients on antiretroviral drugs by the end of 2007, and 800 (a quarter of those estimated to need them) by the end of 2009.

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Macilwain, C. Oil firms back AIDS project in the Niger delta. Nature 444, 663 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/444663b

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