* Angola fight against AIDS a priority
* Fear of virus spreading from neighbouring nations
* Government to bolster spending on awareness, treatment
By Henrique Almeida
LUANDA, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Angola’s 27-year civil war may have caused much bloodshed and destruction but it also acted as a buffer to the deadly AIDS virus, which is now threatening to spread across the African nation, the health minister says.
Minister Jose Van-Dunem said he feared the rebuilding of destroyed roads and bridges would help spread the virus through the movement of people from neighbouring countries.
Only an estimated 2.1 percent of the 16.5 million Angolans have been tested with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, according to government figures.
That figure dwarfs the rate of infections in most of Angola’s neighbours like Namibia where one in five people are believed to suffer from the deadly virus.
"The borders are open, there is movement of people to both sides of the border which increases the possibility of AIDS infection," Van-Dunem said in an interview with Reuters.
"The fight against AIDS is the priority of priorities."
Angola’s newly elected government has promised to spend more than one third of its $42 billion budget for 2009 in health, education and the fight against poverty.
It is also carrying out an awareness campaign alerting Angolans to the dangers of the disease and providing free testing and treatment for the virus.
"If you look at our budget you will see we are serious about this problem."
But in Angola’s southern province of Cunene, on the border with Namibia, there has been an outburst of AIDS. An estimated 16 percent of the population is now falling sick as a result of the virus, according to the Angolan Network of AIDS Service Organizations.
"Cunene has the highest rate of AIDS in the country. We will fight the spread of the disease there and in other provinces on the border. The rate of AIDS in neighbouring countries is much higher than here," Van-Dunem said.
Other provinces in the north, on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, like Uige have also seen a steady rise in new AIDS cases.
This has raised fears that the massive infrastructure rebuilding that has taken place in the oil-producing nation since the end of the civil war in 2002 will continue to bolster the population in Angola’s main cities like Luanda and spread the disease further.
Add to that the fact that two-thirds of Angolan women give birth before they are 20, indicating rising sexual activity among the young, and the dire poverty and the threat of AIDS becomes even more real.
Although Van-Dunem recognised the dangers of AIDS in Angola, he said government efforts to contain it were being successful.
"What is happening is that people today are more open about AIDS since they now have more access to treatment."
Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst affected region by the virus, with an estimated 22.5 million people living with HIV at the end of 2007 or two-thirds of the global total, according to the United Nations. (Reporting by Henrique Almeida; Editing by Angus MacSwan)