MIDDLE EAST: Ignorance still rife about HIV/AIDS

middle eastDUBAI, 1 December (IRIN) - Specialists dealing with HIV/AIDS in the Middle East have said their work has been hampered by the lack of reliable statistics. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, there is a paucity of information and statistics about the numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"There is nothing available except that for adults aged 15-49, the HIV prevalence rate is 0.2 percent," said Souad Orhan, documentation officer for the United Nations AIDS office in Cairo.

HIV infection rates in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have risen by 12 percent, according to the 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update released by UNAIDS. According to UNAIDS statistics, in the MENA region alone, there are 460,000 adults and children living with HIV/AIDS compared with 400,000 in 2004.

However, Dr Mohamad Abdullah Mur, director of human rights department of the Dubai Police, said that "efforts were being made to find more information and spread awareness in the UAE about this deadly epidemic".

Mur said a campaign was launched last year by the UN children's agency (Unicef) and Dubai Police in co-operation with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Social Charity, called "United for Children, United Against AIDS". It focused on raising awareness among children and young people about preventing HIV infection.

According to Unicef, "Dubai Police have dedicated a page on their website to facts about HIV/AIDS and are promoting the goals of the campaign: paediatric treatment, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, prevention of infection among adolescents and young people, and protection and support for children infected with AIDS."

The campaign, said Unicef, would continue to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS in Dubai with mobile exhibits and information booths in shopping malls, police helicopter flights and ongoing media coverage.

A spokesperson for the Valley of Love Organisation, a Dubai-based human-rights NGO, told IRIN that hospitals in the emirate did not seem to have a strategy for long-term care. "Although they care for the physical needs of the patient, they ignore more emotional and mental needs of those who know they are doomed," he said.

HIV/AIDS specialists working in Yemen said the actual figures were higher than those provided by the Ministry of Health. According to the ministry, as of April 2006, there were 1,821 cases of people living with HIV/AIDS in Yemen. Out of these, 417 were said to have AIDS and the rest were HIV positive. At least 60 percent of the total were male, 44 percent were children and 45 percent were foreigners.

Of the Middle Eastern countries, it would appear Egypt has done the most to tackle HIV/AIDS. Egypt has the largest number of NGOs working on the issue with support groups for HIV/AIDS sufferers. It opened its first HIV voluntary counselling and testing centres (VCTs) in 2004; there are now 19 centres around the country.

The VCTs promise anonymity to protect people's identities by choosing a secret code instead of the person's name to verify test results. They also offer counselling services to each individual before having their blood tested.

"Promoting testing is excellent and the fact that it is anonymous is also excellent," said Maha Aoun, the UNAIDS Country Officer for Egypt.

"The other good thing is that the centres are not just in Cairo or for people who live in the city, but they are in other provinces as well," she said.

Maha, however, added that not many people knew of the centres' existence but the Ministry of Health and UNAIDS were working together to popularise them. She also said she was aware that in some cases the quality of counselling was not up to the desired standard and that the centres were under-used.

"These centres are not used as much as they should be because people in Egypt are afraid of getting tested or simply don't know that they are even at risk because of the media's negative image of those [living] with HIV/AIDS. Most of the time the media show that those with AIDS or who are HIV positive are those who have had sexual relations with foreigners. So people avoid the centres because they think they may be arrested or jailed [if they visit them]," she said.

The percentage of women who visit the HIV centres is very low, said Maha.

"The only times that women go to get tested is when the husband dies because of AIDS or when the Ministry of Health informs the wife that her husband is HIV positive."

source - Reuters 

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on December 1, 2006 8:08 PM.

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