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Bonny Island, at the mouth of the Niger River in west Africa, is home to a US$15 billion gas liquefaction plant — one of the largest industrial investments in Africa.

But a combination of migration, fast money and rampant prostitution may place the oil-rich but desperately poor region on the brink of an AIDS explosion. One survey suggests that HIV prevalence has doubled in the last five years.

However, a new initiative set up by oil and gas companies could change the face of public health in the Niger Delta. The consortium that runs the gas plant has chosen the island for a partnership between the local community, government agencies and industries to study, test for and eventually control AIDS on the island.

The project, called Ibani-se after the local word for energy, is the first of its kind in Nigeria. In this article, Colin Macilwain describes the project's difficult start-up, hindered by a minimal public health infrastructure. Until now, outside of a few big urban hospitals, few Nigerians had been tested or counselled about AIDS and almost no-one had received antiretroviral drugs.

Success may be tinged with financial worries. The project has yet to attain the legal status that it seeks, as a nongovernmental organisation, which would make it eligible for financial support from international bodies.

And if Ibani-se proves successful, its cost will rise significantly, with thousands of islanders receiving antiretroviral drugs priced at around US$60 per month.

Link to the full article in Nature

Reference: Nature 445, 140 (2007)

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