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Thursday, November 27, 1997 Published at 03:34 GMT


Aids epidemic is ravaging Africa
image: [ Sub-Saharan Africa may account for half of the world's HIV infected cases ]
Sub-Saharan Africa may account for half of the world's HIV infected cases

Aids is wreaking havoc in Africa, where ignorance, lack of contraceptives and sexual abuse are its allies.

Estimates suggest sub-Saharan Africa may account for almost half of the HIV cases in the world.

Mali, a huge, arid and impoverished nation in the heart of west Africa, is typical of the countries which are struggling to cope with the disease.

[ image: Mali...typical of sub-Saharan Africa]
Mali...typical of sub-Saharan Africa
The BBC's Africa correspondent, Jeremy Vine, has been to Mali, where poverty has driven thousands of young girls, some of them as young as eight, into the clutches of HIV.

Many are forced to leave their villages to seek work as live-in domestic helpers in the towns.

Girls as young as eight who go to work as housemaids are contracting HIV in Mali because they are obliged to have unprotected sex with their employers.

Bill Tod, of the Save The Children Fund, says: "We know there are girls coming into the towns as young as eight.

"We also know these girls are being sexually abused, either by the menfolk in the houses where they are living and working, or they are being taken advantage of by the young men in the towns who come and seek them out."

[ image: Women in Mali have set up self-help groups]
Women in Mali have set up self-help groups
Many Malian women have formed action groups to combat Aids and they give crash courses in the dangers of sex, illustrated by simple flip charts, to the homeless child workers.

Aminata Kane, of the Jigisami Women's Group, says: "We need to do this because children, however young they are, do need to know about Aids in this place."

[ image: Safe sex message is being taught]
Safe sex message is being taught
Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, says: "We are now realizing that rates of HIV transmission have been grossly underestimated -- particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the bulk of infections have been concentrated to date."

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